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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Could I interest you in one of my "Ready, fire, aim" rejects?

My partner often accuses me of writing the copy then looking at the brief.

She is right. It's amazing that I ever produce anything that works.

A good example has come up in the last week.

A lady asked me to write a piece for a fundraising magazine. I normally write for money, but as it was fundraising I did it for nothing. This was a mistake, as the publishers are very wealthy.

But anyhow, what I gave them was not what they really wanted. They wanted a "toolkit" -whatever that is. I think it's a "how to" piece.

What they got was this. It may not suit them, but it might suit you.

My title was What makes a good newsletter? Lessons I learned the hard way and it read like this:

First, a confession. I am barely qualified to write this. I have never published or even written for a charity or fundraising newsletter.

So take this as one man’s point of view - and feel free to disagree.

However, I have owned a newsletter, and I have worked for at least 20 non-profit organisations – from my late mother’s animal rescue home to Save the Children to The Arsenal Supporters Trust. And I have been paid to advise people in the public sector on what to do with their newsletters

From this I have arrived at a few conclusions - things you ought to do and things you should never do.

I learned what not to do the hard way. I paid for my lessons. This happened four decades ago. I bought a newsletter from a man who knew a great deal more about what works and what doesn’t in publishing. The strokes of genius I then applied very nearly ruined me.

But before going further, let me compare two wildly different types of publication.

One is Grazia, perhaps the most successful woman’s magazine, with a huge circulation. The other is Subscription Strategy, a newsletter with a tiny circulation which does very well.

You can get Grazia everywhere and through the post if you subscribe. It is a weekly, can cost you as little as £1 a week and usually has over 100 pages, with lots of excellent pictures and features printed on glossy paper, with very good design and typography.

You can only get Subscription Strategy if you subscribe. It appears 6 times a year, with no more than 16 pages, very few cheap pictures, in double spaced typewriter face, and costs £XXX a year.

Both these formats work well. The difference is that Grazia is for everyone – a public thing – whereas Subscription Strategy is private, only for a limited number of people.

This distinction lies at the heart of what a newsletter should be – but most aren’t.

When I bought The Business Ideas Letter all those years ago I was young, and knew everything. Armed with this conceit I changed the winning formula the previous owner had devised. I will ignore various fatuous errors relating to the mailing I sent out at the wrong time of the year with the wrong format, but just talk about the style of the newsletter.

His format was very simple. He used a typewriter face – probably Courier; there were no pictures; the whole thing looked cheap - as though produced on a kitchen table.

I decided to smarten it up with pictures and a more stylish design. I wanted it to have a bit of class - to look more like a magazine.

This was a horrid mistake, and one I see in many, maybe most, newsletters.

A newsletter should be what the name suggests. A letter full of news. Something you send to friends, with news about what will interest them. A private, personal communication, not a public one.

It should make the reader feel one of special, closed group. It should not be flashy, but personal.

Most newsletters fail to do that. Computer publishing has made it so easy to do clever things, so people are tempted to do so. On that I quote an Australian friend talking about the many clever things you can do on the internet: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

The sins committed in newsletters are very similar to the sins committed in advertising.

They are:

Talking about what interests you rather than what interests the reader. Too often I see the ugly mug of some self-important person in a prominent place better occupied by the face of someone your organisation is helping.

Using pompous “marketing speak” that makes the perpetrators feel good, but baffles and irritates ordinary folk.

Not enough information about what people’s money is doing. I subscribe to two children’s charities. They do not tell me enough about how they spend the money, or what good value they give.

Not enough emotion. “Pockets are the most sensitive parts of a human being. So we must touch hearts and minds first” – President Lula Da Silva of Brazil

Sunday, 29 May 2011

How Sainsbury's made us take a walk through the rain

Today we went to our local Sainsbury's supermarket in Clifton Down to shop for dinner.

They had some squid, lying there whole with their little eyes gazing up at us.

"Can you clean them?" we asked.

"Oh, they're already cleaned," said the young man.

This seemed odd. We have never seen, in all our years of sqidmania, a squid that had been cleaned yet still looked at you.

However, we took them. But try as we might we couldn't find a decent roasting joint. So we walked through the rain to Waitrose, where we did.

The two supermarkets sell much the same things, though Waitrose is far smaller, with a far lesser selection and a bit more expensive.

The difference is that Waitrose is cleaner, properly organised - and the people have been trained.

The squid had not been cleaned. Nobody in that Sainsbury's knows a damn thing about cleaning or filleting fish. They have let us down three times. Not their fault. They just haven't been trained. We should have known better.

The longer I live the surer I am that the one thing that matters more than anything else is education.

Failure can be ascribed almost invariably to people not knowing what they are doing.

All bad things come to an end. But after this recession ends, businesses everywhere will pay a terrible price for the way they have skimped on training and education.

I wonder how many people realise just how far we have fallen behind.

The other day I was interviewing a friend for my Commonsense Marketing series.

He teaches direct marketing.

He told me one of his students - with a responsible job, having successfully gone through what is passed off as our educational system - did not know what a percentage is.

God help us.

Our only hope lies in the fact that many Asians are coming to British universities to be educated. I find that hilarious

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Wisdom from beyond the grave, and a book I must get

You may have noticed that pretty regularly I comment on the crass language used by people who email me in the wasted hope of selling things I don't need or are attempts to rip me off.

Yesterday in facebook I remarked on something I had received, headed: "Introducing the worlds most dynamic and revolutionary jobs website".

I thought that even in a world of fatuous overclaim this stood out. Anyhow, this provoked a number of comments - and a good one from Jared Lazaro included a quotation from George Orwell

Jared wrote: "Does NO ONE understand that this sort of drivel makes them look idiotic?!?"

Then he quoted George Orwell:

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink."

Few of those labouring in the weed-clogged marketing vineyard have read Orwell but for years in seminars I have adapted his advice from an essay called Politics and the English Language.

Sounds like a book we should all read.

Friday, 27 May 2011

How should a bank advertise? And a little corporate nonsense to end the week on a low note

If you follow these romps through the social underground, you may recall my piece a few days ago about a crass ad run by Barclays Bank.

Ann Lewis Scarff, a realtor in Las Vegas described my suggestion that banks are “Abdicating responsibility as a business objective” as “key words. Banking & advertising ties fiduciary responsibility and liability. With the mtg. meltdown & recession I'd love to hear how you would approach a positive ad approach for banking".

She carried on, "Backing business for over 300 years" actually makes a bold statement in this economic climate” and suggests, “I'd put up a photo of the guy behind the old Cashier's Cage bars holding cash & smoking a cigar.... you have to be a tough cookie to walk the line & still be successful in banking...”

Being a bit thick I don’t entirely understand everything she wrote, but if you want to do better advertising it’s a good idea to start with what most people are thinking.

First, any reader who bothered to notice the ad will have thought, “Who cares what you’ve been doing for 300 years? I’ve got my own problems right now - and the banks are no help.”

So you’d definitely have to ditch that boastful and quite exceptionally dull headline.

David Ogilvy called that sort of bragging flatulent puffery. Every competent copywriter knows it’s just as bad an idea in advertising as it is in real life.

A second thought would surely be, "Come off it. We know you thieving bankers have taken our money and are giving it out in massive bonuses rather than help businesses. Stop bullshitting me."

I would return to the basics of copy which so few big agency copywriters are aware of.

One example is worth a mountain of claims. If they have been helping businesses, they should run ads telling who and how. Nothing else could hope to convince.

Just as the internet shysters can always bolster their claims with testimonials from the few people who have succeeded in making all that cash they promise, surely the banks must be able to find some customers they’ve helped.

So that’s the way I would go.

Talking about dumb copy, a thing that's just made me gnash my teeth is a message from a firm called Yodel. I suspect it is run by idiots, because their competence is at the same level as their copy: subterranean.

They were supposed to be delivering some coffee from Nespresso. We were out, so they left one of those irritating cards. The numbers to quote were so badly written I couldn’t decipher them. And nor could the lady I spoke to (at my expense) after pressing umpteen buttons.

It was finally established that they had sent nothing – or had no record of having done - to our address. So how did they leave the leaflet? Are there dwarves wandering round Clifton delivering leaflets at random?

But nothing in all this annoyed me as much as the message I got when I rang to sort out this mess, announcing that Yodel is “the new name for your delivery partner”.

Look, when I am trying to find out where something is I really don't want some out of work actor wasting my money by spouting witless slogans.

I am not aware of having ever had a delivery partner or wanting one. I have business partners. I have a lady I sometimes call my partner because mistress is condescending and inaccurate, lover sounds silly - and boss, whilst accurate, is demeaning. I used to have partners for bridge. But I don't want a delivery partner. There is no vacancy. Especially if that creature cannot deliver.

“What,” I asked the lady on the phone, “was the old name of my new delivery partner.”

“DHL,” she replied.

“Useless twats,” I muttered to myself. "That explains it. They were ashamed to say who they were before."

Here's a suggestion.

Yodel - so useless we had to change our name from DHL.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

A line I felt like stealing, an ad that calls for the death sentence - and a mystery

Recently I started working for a client who has found an ingenious way for businesses to raise money.

Since the banks have abdicated their responsibilities in that area to focus on paying their top people obscene amounts of money - much of it supplied by you and me - they will do well.

I always keep an eye open for anything to do with anyone I hope to help, so I made note of an email the other day from someone in the same business as my new client.

The subject line read What do you have in common with Richard Branson or Anita Roddick?

The copy explained that to build a business you need finance and they can help.

My niece Nicola ran the most successful Body Shop in the U.S. outside New York and told me a little about the late Mrs. Roddick, who seemed a complete pain. (But so am I sometimes).

She had the attention span of a gnat - very quickly bored - and great contempt for marketing, no doubt because most practitioners talk such pretentious tosh. Come to think of it, I have a lot in common with her.

As it also happens I had some exchanges with Richard Branson years ago and one of my friends was in business with him in three different ventures.

He tells how he got involved with Branson in a wonderful talk he gave at EADIM two years ago. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBm9nqSwt7A. And if you then want to know how he has since set up another highly successful business called Naked Wines, you can hear him explain that, too as I interviewed him for an hour last year to find out.

To see both in full you need to try http://www.draytonbirdcommonsense.com/robme

Naked Wines is a brilliant example of three things: how to position a business; how to use social media; and how to use cause-related marketing. Three things that few marketers understand.

Going back to the start of this piece banks also waste astounding amounts of our money on very bad advertising.

A particularly absurd example from Barclays appeared not long ago in the Sunday Telegraph. It was a full page with a picture of a "distinguished" model opening - or maybe closing - a door, who could possibly care?

The headline read, "Backing business for over 300 years". This is advertising anaesthesia. If anyone working for me suggested that I would have them bloodily disembowelled in the centre of Piccadilly Circus. The headline would have been a cliche in 1900. The picture is utterly without point or merit

Besides being astoundingly bad, that shows how business idiots think advertising is just a platform for lying. Barclays (or their agency) think if they claim to help businesses people will fall for it, when we all know they only help themselves - and only lend you money when you don't need it.

What a confederacy of twats.

But the real questions that come to mind are these.

1. Does whoever commissions or approves advertising know nothing about copy? Have they never even studied what works and what doesn't for even a fleeting second?

2. Does whoever writes or supervises copy and layouts at their agency know nothing about copy and layout? Have they never even studied what works and what doesn't for even a fleeting second?

3. Since a bank is, or ought to be, interested in husbanding money and making it work hard, why don't they apply that principle to their advertising?

Of course one explanation is that some ignorant high-up at the bank thought up the ad when drunk, and told the agency that was what he wanted.

People who know nothing about advertising think anybody can do it - and as a result many do.

Friday, 20 May 2011

What Winston Churchill and I have in common ...

The short follow-on to that is, not much.

He was courageous to a point far beyond the foolhardy.

I am a craven coward.

He made history; I make a pretty good Coq au Vin.

But in one respect we have similarities.

Churchill was highly emotional. I once read that he was the last public figure in England not afraid to cry in public.

I weep at the drop of a hat. I cry in films. I cried yesterday when reading about the suffering of women in Liberia. I cried during the Royal Wedding.

And I cried this morning when reading a piece in the Irish Times on the Queen's laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Dublin.

It is at least 800 years since the Normans went over to Ireland. For most of that time we - that is our ancestors - behaved appallingly.

I thought it great that the Queen did what she did, and pretty good of Philip, too, when you think how his uncle was killed in Ireland.

Enough of the this sob stuff. I laughed like a drain when I read that the shit Goodwin who did so much to ruin our banking system has been exposed as one of those taking out a super injunction to conceal an affair.

I hope he falls off the pile of money he screwed out of the bank (which means us) and breaks his rapacious neck.

Who would cry? Anybody? I wonder. His mother? Does he have one, or did he just sprout up like a toadstool?

On a totally different subject, I have got not one, not two, but three of the smartest people I know to come to my copy day in Bristol.

I'll make sure they join in, so you can pick their brains.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Used tampons, gay kisses for the kiddies … Rembrandt and Dickens, how sadly limited your imaginations were!

With what joy in the future I shall never see will our descendants rediscover the great art of the 21st century!

Can you even begin to picture how many incoherent academic essays will try to unearth the roots of the transcendent genius of Tracey Emin? I see her latest masterpiece features used tampons next to a pregnancy test kit.

Who could possibly comprehend what lightning flash of inspiration led to that? How many years’ diligent training and study could have led to the perfect arrangement of these lovely artefacts?

But culture is of many kinds. There is the high art of Tracy and Gilbert & George, who go in for turds rather than tampons – and there is the sort of stuff that reaches out to the masses.

Just as in the 19th century serialised novels by Dickens or Thackeray explored great social issues like child labour or the horrors of the legal system, today we have Eastenders and Coronation Street doing the same sort of thing.

Thanks to Coronation Street we are on the verge of witnessing a real creative breakthrough by having a scene with two men kissing before what I have just learned is the “watershed” - when the kids go to bed. For all I know this great cultural breakthrough has already occurred; but alas, the uncultured stand in the way. Philistine churls are calling for a ban.

Why ruin it for the kiddies? The Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron has been called to task by that great actor Antony Cotton for supporting this dreadful ban. “The man doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he’s not in touch with the people” says Cotton.

I hate to agree with Mr. Cameron, but I have a lurking feeling that most of the public are thoroughly fed up with having gay kisses – and for that matter, used tampons - foisted on them as an imitation of art.

P.S. Turning to something almost bizarrely different, a big thank you to those who said they'd come to Bristol for the copy day, so now I'm going to take a larger venue.

The only downside is that I'll be boring the hell out of the rest of you by lurking in every cranny of the internet muttering "Please, please come to Bristol, it's great, full of culture, great bars,. cheap booze, good restaurants , music, waterfront setting, etc. etc."

All true - though I am biassed. A fair few bits of the city are named after my mother's family, the Colstons.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Finally, finally, the advertising mooncalves catch up with reality

The New York Times has a slogan, "All the news that's fit to print", and they aren't kidding. The paper is a literary expression of the world's most overweight society. You need a forklift truck to pick it up.

(We're number two in the obesity stakes, by the way, and our Sunday Times could do with shedding a few ounces)

Anyway a friend just sent an extract from the NYT which begins:

"After 40 years of catering to younger consumers, advertisers and media executives are coming to a different realization: older people aren't so bad, after all.

Marketers like Kellogg's, Skechers and 5-Hour Energy drink are broadening their focus to those 55 and up, who were largely ignored in most of their media plans until recently. "

Then it descends further into cliché:

"During next week's upfront announcements, the annual preview of the fall television season, network executives are planning to introduce shows created to have broad appeal, including to older viewers, and the ad dollars they represent."

For a good twenty years I've been commenting on the way the little fuckwits in Adland create stuff written for themselves and then aim it at themselves, utterly sidelining the folks who have the money.

It's really a form of business masturbation. The only people who get any pleasure are those doing it.

The NYT piece has some interesting statistics.

"The most recent unemployment rate for those 20 to 24 years old is 14.2 percent; for those 25 to 34, it is 9.4 percent. The rate for people aged 55 to 64 is only 6.2 percent.

People aged 45 to 54 and 55 to 64 had the highest median weekly earnings of any age segment in the United States: $844 and $860, respectively. Those 20 to 24 had weekly earnings of only $454. Those who are 25 to 34 earned $682.

The funniest thing in the piece was from Stephanie Pappas, a senior planner for BBDO NY.

She said there was "now good reason for ad clients to seek the mature audience.

"In some ways, they are the ideal consumer. They have money, they consume loads of media, and they remain optimistic." she said.

What can she possibly mean, "now good reason". There has been good reason for as long as I can remember, and the brainless duds in planning departments have ignored it.

This confirms my fervent belief, held right from the moment they were introduced to a gullible marketing world, that agency planners are only necessary if the account handlers can't think and the creative people don't understand people.

Fire the lot, lower your costs and get real.

P. S. For those interested. By the end of today I must decide whether to get a bigger room for my June 20th Bristol copy seminar.

There will be some interesting people there by the way, including some from Hargreaves Lansdown - surely the best marketers of financial services in the country.

Also, a surprise extra speaker. Well, a surprise to me anyhow, because some people rated him better than me at an event not long ago. I really must try harder.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Things in today's news that made me laugh

1. Proof that the best Irish jokes always come from the Irish: A Paddy Power TV spot with a blind footballer kicking a cat across a pitch got more complaints than any other ad in the last year. Well fancy that!

2. Proof that Parliament is stuffed with idiots: MPs have recommended there should be a "snow supremo" to try to avoid another winter of chaos at airports. Come back King Canute, all is forgiven.

3. At least they're not sitting on their arses: More and more graduates are taking non-graduate jobs. Six months after leaving university, about 40% are doing so. Good for them. But maybe it's because most of their degrees are about as demanding as GCSE you took at 16 when I was young.

4. Male South Korean teachers resign in droves: A local education board plans to place boards in front of all school desks, to make students more "comfortable". This is because of the fashion for very short skirts which has come from Japan.

I made the bit about the teachers up. But the Koreans should come and take a look at Bristol on a Friday night. The girls would shorten their skirts a bit more and the teachers would be very happy.

By the way, anyone who thinks what they just read is a bit sexist has strayed onto the wrong blog.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Asinine, inept rubbish from the Royal Mail - or Royal Cock-up

The other day I read that people in what is laughingly misnamed public service get about 43% more in pay and pensions than ordinary people like you and me.

Our reward for subsidising them is that they plan to make more of our lives a bloody misery than they are already by carefully planned strikes.

This would be insult enough if they weren't so utterly incompetent, as witness the evidence on this page. Just read the right hand bit. The items are only tracked after they have been delivered.

I guess the equivalent is, not "The doctor will see you now" but "The doctor will only see you after you have died."

The Royal Mail was "run" for a while by an ex-adman called Crozier. Clearly his experience in the land of "This shit is marvellous just because we say so" left a lasting impression.

Crozier has great career agility. He skips like a mountain goat from one overpaid job to another, leaving just before the sheriff. For the past 16 months he has been working his magic at ITV. Their revenues have just plunged by 20%.

Could he be a future prime minister? After all, he is a Scot.

Which brings me to a mystery that has been puzzling me for a while now.

Why does Scotland send us so many great men in so many fields but such utter shit when it comes to politics?

Think of it. From Adam Smith to Livingstone to Alexander Fleming or - rather different - Paisley, Busby and Ferguson. And goodness knows how many more. All excellent.

But in politics? Ramsay Macdonald, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown. And worryingly, Cameron is a Scots name.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Pollution alert! The Bliar is on his way to Auckland … Reduce - Reuse - Recycle

It’s 25 years since I first had the chance to visit New Zealand.

Glorious food and wine, spectacular scenery, hospitable folk - I only wish I could go more often, but it’s so far from everywhere that I rarely do. Just about the only thing I don’t like is that for some strange reason it’s one of the most politically correct places on earth.

One of the things I love most is just how clean and unspoilt it is, blessedly shielded from many of the more noxious aspects of our world. The flip side is that sometimes they haven’t been warned about some of the great plagues of civilisation, one of which is on its way, like a malign Tsunami.

I refer to the Great Bliar, described in terms so misleading (fittingly, now I think of it) that you might derive some entertainment from it.

The message, fittingly garnished with meaningless cliché and unsullied by attention to grammar reads:

I wanted to make sure you were aware of an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from one of the greats.

For the first time in New Zealand – Tony Blair will share his unique insights and experiences in leadership, negotiation and innovation. An exclusive speaking tour by one of the most engaging, respected and in-demand speakers of his generation. Former British Prime Minister (1997 - 2007), Mr Blair continues to a play a leadership role on issues such as globalisation, the Middle East peace process and climate change.

This inspirational event will take place on Thursday 28 July, 12 noon – 3pm at Eden Park, Auckland. Etc., etc.

Respected? The Bliar is just a masterly bullshitter, all fur coat and no knickers. He had a chance to do something in 1997. Instead he settled for waffle, and aided by the Great Bloated McToad set back this country a generation.

One of my great concerns is that the one person who does seem to respect him is Cameron. This bodes ill for our future.

I don’t know what he has done to forward globalisation or prevent climate change but anybody with eyes to see and ears to hear knows one thing. Despite being paid a lot of money (he's good at that) he has done the square toot of fuck-all in Middle East, being very careful to stay from a region where people inured to mendacity recognise him for what he is.

Come to think of it, why is globalisation good? It’s one of those words politicians trot out so glibly that we don’t stop to ask what it means. As far as I can make out it means, far too often, destroying cultures that would do better undisturbed. Besides spreading MacDonalds, obesity and desperate migrants, what good is it?

My advice, Kiwis, is go sailing, or get down to Parnell and have a few schooners. You’ll learn more from the drunks at the next table than from that grasping creep.

Anyhow, the one laugh I got from the message came from the next e-mail, headed Reduce - Reuse – Recycle. My advice is: Ignore, reject and close your ears. If British voters had done that in 1997 we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Should you trust a man who can't tell you what day it is?

This is almost unforgivable-but a delegate from South Africa has just told me I put the wrong date for the copywriting seminar on my blog yesterday.

This is academic because the thing is sold out.

However, it is 20th June, not 30th.


So how SHOULD you choose an agency?

Having got that bit of spleen about pitching off my teeny little concave chest, you may wonder how you should choose an agency.

This is what I think.

Do your research. Look out for work you like that has got results - and only talk to agencies who get results. Ignore those that just win awards unrelated to measurable results.

Look at agency websites. Try to find good ones (not easy - most try to be too bloody clever for their own good - or yours).

Look at who their clients are. Look at their work, if any, results if any - and client testimonials. Ring up their clients and ask what they think

Make a short list, no more than 5, preferably less.

Go to their offices. You won't learn a damn thing sitting in yours.

Ask them to take you through one or two success stories and a failure. Get them to explain what went right and why - and vice versa. Don't let them get away with vague waffle; make them be precise.

If they say they don't have any failures, walk out.

Explain what you want. See what they say. Does it make sense? Do you like them? Yes: it is best to do business with people you like.

Ask them who precisely will work on your business and what they will do. Make sure you meet them, not just some flash bullshitters with fancy titles.

Now, choose the two or at most the three agencies you like best, and ask them to create something to test. Pay them. Do you work for nothing?

Doesn't that make more sense than having a committee of noddies making the decision?

How NOT to choose an agency: a beginner's guide

I have been fortunate over the years to have hired quite a few very able people whom I mention occasionally in these blatherings.

This is mock modesty, actually. I am bloody good at hiring them, maybe because I decided long ago that I don't want to, and can't do all the work myself - so I'd better try and find others, preferably better than me, to take it on.

One of them, whom I mentioned the other day, has left me to get paid twice as much elsewhere. Among her endearing characteristics were that she could do almost anything and that she regularly worked all night to get something done.

She handled clients, wrote copy, presented brilliantly, and did layouts on the Mac, a skill she picked up in two days just by sitting next to someone and watching them. The copywriting is the most extraordinary of these accomplishments, as her native language is not English. For six years she wrote and perfected the control mailing for our biggest client. They will regret losing her.

But she had one fatal flaw. She kept on asking me to pitch for business. I had to humour her three times before she realised what a completely stupid idea this is.

Its only benefits are the chance to study a) one of the most pointless activities in our business; b) marvel that most of the people in charge of it know next to nothing about marketing; c) wonder how people who have never studied their chosen field of activity have risen to such positions of influence.

There are many theories about b) and c) including the popular one that shit rises to the surface, but I think it is because marketing is not a profession in the way that law or medicine are - though marketing people like to kid themselves it is. As a result it is heavily populated by people who in earlier times would have been used car salesmen or confidence tricksters.

Anyhow, why are pitches a ludicrous activity besides the fact that they waste a lot of time and money better applied elsewhere? Not everything I say next is true, but almost all of it is.

1. The only people who can tell you if your ideas are good or not are the customers. They will vote with their money.

2. The people who judge the ideas submitted are not qualified to do so. Even if any had read a few marketing books (highly unlikely) or spent time getting a certificate at an Institute, they are not their customers.

3. Even if they were, what people like and what makes them reply or buy are two entirely different things. I have spent more years than I care to recall putting audiences all over the world to the test by showing them A/B split runs. Only about one person in 50 can get three right in a row.

4. Those choosing the agency are swayed by whether they like the people they meet. This matters, but has nothing to do with results.

5. The agency will go to great lengths to charm, bribe and grovel their way to the business rather than worry about what works. Their objective quite simply is "Give the clients what they want." One cynical friend who was brilliant at pitches said to me, "First I give them what they want, then try to persuade them to run what they need."

All this is prompted by an invitation to pitch from a large firm, with a list of stuff I had to read and study in order to take part.

Which brings me to the last reason why I refused immediately, muttering a handy Italian phrase to myself: Va fan culo.

I cannot spare time to work on phantom business. I have real clients paying me real money to work for them. If I take time off to try and fathom the inscrutable desires of this prospect I am robbing my clients.

I could go on about this, but it's the middle of the night.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

What are you? Amateur, professional or semi-pro? Go the whole hog!

Two days ago I got a message from someone who described themselves as an auto-responder copywriter. I raised my eyebrows so far they almost reached where my hairline would be if I had any hair. This is specialisation gone mad.

Nevertheless it may work, and the message reminded me that a couple of weeks back someone wrote asking for my views on copywriters specialising in certain fields, such as investment or health.

I’m afraid I was a bit dismissive. To me copywriters are either professional or not. Professional writers can write about anything in any medium for any audience. The rest - the semi-pros - can’t. I will ignore the complete amateurs, who are, happily for the rest of us, the overwhelming majority.

I realise this will sound a bit self-serving, but in the last 24 hours I have worked on stuff for a firm advising accountants on the coming pension changes, one that sells saddles to top riders, another that sells property in Singapore and one in Slovenia that sells electronic candles in Italy.

The one I enjoyed most was the last because you just couldn’t make it up. Also I think it's the best copy I've written for a while

This question of amateur or professional is on my mind a lot, and I was reminded of it, believe it or not, because a friend from Spain sent me a whole Jabugo ham yesterday. (Jabugo, if you didn’t know, is surely the best ham in the world – and certainly the most expensive).

Have I gone mad? Why did ham remind me of the amateur/professional gap? Because I have in my files a brilliant Spanish mailing – about 15 years old – to sell a complete pig.

It is brilliant not just because of the copy or design, but because of the idea – which showed a rare understanding of what marketing is about; an understanding almost always lacking in amateur copywriters – and most marketing directors, but let’s not go there.

The proposition was not just “buy our great ham”. It was, “You can buy this entire pig, month by month.”

This is an idea as old as the book club concept - the modern continuity deal - first introduced in 1930 by Max Sackheim and Harry Sherman. But only a professional could have come up with it.

And I should add that the pig in question was of course a Pata Negro, the unique kind that produces the Jabugo ham my friend Jose sent me yesterday. These porcine aristocrats are so pampered that each one has a whole hectare to graze on. You can see a few at the top under the kindly eye of their owner.

Would you like to meet a man who sends good stuff to people he likes? Well, Jose was at my branding event in Leicester and is coming to Bristol for the copy day on June 30th. I think there are now 5 seats left.

And if you want to have a complete professional understanding of marketing then you can get a hell of deal on www.eadim.com if you come to Bristol.

By the way, are you wondering what impelled Jose to find his way from Valencia to Leicester (a nightmare trip)?

He saw a video of me speaking at Brighton University 20 years ago which he says he has watched at least 30 times – and which helped him build one of the biggest car hire firms in Spain called www.doyouspain.com. A site many people could learn from.

If you meet him, be careful. The man can really hold his liquor.