Persuasive Copywriting: 12 Tips for Success


If I could turn back time, I’d ping this list to a certain fresh-faced copywriter who started out almost 20 years ago. Some of the points are pretty well established and all over the internet in a chorus of retweets. Others are my personal observations on persuasive copywriting from a 15-year career.


1) Get your call to action right

This is the bit where you ask someone to do something – call, buy, click, email etc. While it will usually appear at the end, decide what it will be from the very start. This will keep you focused throughout the writing process. Without it, you are completely wasting your time. (Harsh, but true.)


2) List your key selling points

(The things that are great about your product or service.) Then arrange them in order of importance. Use this list when writing copy, starting with the top of the list.

Note I don’t refer to unique selling points or USPs, because the truth is not every product or service has them. If you try to sell a common service as unique, you’ll come over all Saul from Breaking Bad.


3) Know your audience

For persuasive copywriting, you must have a real customer in mind when you write. Imagine you are talking to them. This will help your copy appear authentic and not like it’s coming out of the mouth of a malevolent robot bent on world domination.


4) Talk benefits, not features

It’s a way to keep your copy customer-centric, rather than inward looking. Feature. ‘Our shoes are lined with lamb’s wool.’ Benefit: ‘You’ll walk for miles on a comfy cloud of lamb’s wool in our lined shoes.’ It’s the oldest tip in the book, but it still counts.


5) Find the right headline

For online copy, you are absolutely going to want to base your headline around a key phrase with search volume. Work every word around this phrase. For other media, you have a bit more wiggle room, but always observe this rule when writing headline copy: Push your biggest benefit right up there in the headline.


6) Use good structure

Good, persuasive copywriting looks like this. Headline. Short introduction setting the scene, often describing the problem or desire (see next point below). Selling Point (SP) 1, SP 2, SP 3 etc. Call to action. That really is it, apart from one small variable: you may experiment with including a call to action after the introduction too, so busy people can get straight to the sale.


7) Tell a story

Every good story involves a conflict or obstacle and, usually, a happy resolution. Similarly, when writing copy you should outline your reader’s desire, why they haven’t achieved it so far and how you are going to help them a) find love, b) develop good oral hygiene, c) conquer that midlife crisis via the purchase of a very expensive soft-topped car.


8) Avoid business speak

Round up words such as passionate, engaged and committed like the zombies they are and shoot them in the head. Because if you want truly persuasive copywriting that sings and turns heads, you need to avoid the clichéd, knee-jerk corporate speak that goes uhhhhhhhh in a mindless way and makes readers despair at our dead-eyed world. Really. Kill them now.


9) Appeal to the senses

Don’t invite readers to ‘enjoy a beach in Cornwall’. Close your eyes, write with your senses and ask them to feel the soft, fine sands between their toes.

The point here is to weed out meh meh blah blah words and expressions and transform them into something that appeals to your reader’s senses.


10 Arouse the emotions

For some reason, many businesses think a neutral bland tone signifies a reassuring competence. It doesn’t. It signifies apathy. Ditch all that and get your reader’s blood pumping. Make them laugh. Make them curious. Even make them a little bit anxious. Just make them feel something and you’ll have that most precious thing of all in copywriting – in any writing – a connection.


11 Be concise

Because endless waffle will lose you readers.


12 Revise, revise, revise

If your goal is convincing, persuasive copywriting time and time again, you need to accept that most first drafts are utter rubbish. Here’s a way to pan for gold in that first shitty draft and create something beautiful.

  1. Write a draft.
  2. Sit on it for at least a half day. (This is crucial, so you can look at your copy with fresh eyes.)
  3. Start your revisions at the broadest level. First, check your overall structure. Does one paragraph lead logically to the next? Are there whole sections you could lose to make your message more snappy? Reorder or delete as necessary.

4) Now hone in on individual sentences. Reorder clumsy constructions. Ditch clichés and find a new and more vital and emotive turn of phrase.

5) Finesse and proofread. Do a final line by line edit, deleting any unnecessary words and correcting mistakes in punctuation and spelling.


Make this extra effort and you may well be amazed at the results.


Martin Philp is a UK-based freelance copywriter who writes for brands and SMEs. Why not take a look at his professional copywriting services, his wide copywriter portfolio or more posts from his copywriting blog. Or, if you’re looking for copywriting that persuades now, call 07414 865222 for a chat.



Marketing Cornwall: 8 Trends for Tourism Operators


The finest beaches in the UK. The most dramatic coastlines. Hauntingly beautiful engine houses. Oh, and did anyone mention The Poldark Factor?

With all of our county’s natural assets, it’s tempting to think that marketing Cornwall destinations requires little more than hanging up the Vacancies sign.

But there’s a lot of competition out there. And a race to the top when it comes to meeting visitors’ expectations. Even in Cornwall you need to offer something exceptional to make your tourism business thrive.


What tourists want

For several years I was the managing editor of VisitEngland’s Quality Edge, a magazine for owners of B&Bs, small hotels and self-catering accommodation. In that time, I wrote and commissioned dozens of articles and developed a good sense of what matters to tourists. Here’s 8 things every business should think about when marketing Cornwall destinations.

1 Wellness packages


The Independent Hotel Show has been bigging up the wellness trend for some time now. But what if you don’t have the experience to teach yoga, the space for spa treatments or the cooking skills for elaborate vegetarian fayre? That’s where I’ve seen operators thrive by teaming up with local providers. Relaxing, calming guest house + tai chi instructor (on or off site) and packed lunches from a vegetarian restaurant = a well positioned, marketable offer.

And this principle can be applied to other areas too, such as walking and water sports holidays.

2 Disabled access

Here’s a fact. One in five people in the UK are disabled. In other words, 20% of your potential market. Catering for people with mobility issues, hearing loss, or visual and mental impairment could make a real difference to your bookings. You can market your tourism business’s approach to disability by publishing an Accessibility Guide. See here for more details.

3 Themed rooms

I’ve come across a Harry Potter-themed guesthouse, a large hotel with the décor of an ocean liner and even a hotel themed on, er… llamas. So why not embrace a trend that is on the up and up by finding a theme for your Cornish B&B, guest house or self-catering apartment? It could be a Poldark-inspired 18th century interior with nooks and crannies and open fires. Or something more subtle with an airy beach theme. Whatever it is, it might be a great hook for marketing your Cornwall destination. Just be very careful about copyright infringement and take professional advice if necessary.

4 Good local food

Food with a local flavour will never get old. In Cornwall, we have great food handed to us on a plate. Why not serve homemade jam, fresh free range eggs and locally baked bread at breakfast? Oh, and how about some artfully wrapped Cornish fudge on the pillow?

5 Free WiFi

No ifs, no buts,  good-quality WiFi is essential. In fact, visitors expect it just like they do hot and cold water and a selection of teas in a little basket. It won’t cost you a fortune to sort, so never neglect this essential service.

6 Promotional videos

According to some estimates, by 2020 80% of internet traffic will be video. Which means if you want to keep getting visits to your website, you’ll need to create your own promotional video highlighting your destination’s unique appeal. Shaky cameras, zoom-happy operators and deadpan narratives are out – standards are getting so much higher these days and you really ought to consider bringing in the professionals. If you want to go to town, you could commission a drone for those fabulous aerial shots, another growing trend even among smaller operators…

7 Tailored marketing

Catering for and marketing Cornwall to a particular visitor segment could give you an edge on the competition and a real focus for

your business. From the Chinese and the Americans to age-defined segments such as baby boomers or Millennials, there are very distinct markets you can target to bring in the bookings. To find out more about different segments and how to cater to them, visit www.visitbritain.org/visitor-segmentation.

8 Digital presence

Almost all of the successful tourism operators I have interviewed have a strong digital presence. This means a regularly updated website with good photography, a social media presence (many tweet or post facts about their local area) and a willingness to tackle negative reviews promptly (without getting argumentative) . Follow their example. And play the long game. Start tweeting and posting now regularly and watch your presence – and bookings – slowly but surely grow.

Martin Philp is a freelance copywriter based in Penzance, Cornwall. He helps brands and SMEs find creative ways to talk to customers and attract sign ups and sales. Get in touch on 07414 865222, email, or find out more about how his professional copywriting services can help Cornwall businesses now.

Photos: Crowns, Chris Dart; Wellness, Luca Boldrini; Scones Kathryn Yengel; Sign, Paul Lucas.

All under Creative Commons License.


How to Brief a Professional Copywriter

So you need help from a professional copywriter. But how exactly do you describe what you want? In other words, how do you get them to truly understand your brand? And transform that list of key selling points into a campaign that whispers sweet nothings into customers’ ears.

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to brief a copywriter. A good one will listen to you and ask questions (and then a few more) until he or she teases out a brief and understands exactly what you’re looking for.

But you can certainly speed up the process by bearing the following 5 points in mind:

1) Define the terms of the job

Have you built a solid brand and want a writer who will sell your services within an established tone of voice? Then you need copywriting, pure and simple.

Is your brand underdeveloped and your tone of voice all over the place? Do you even lack a convincing company slogan? Then you need copywriting with some brand development.

Tell your copywriter how much of one or the other you need. It will help them remain consistent with your brand, or give them the freedom to bring an exciting new tone of voice to your business.

2) Describe your product or service in your own words

Describe what you sell with passion, in words you would use when talking to a friend. These kinds of interactions with a client are pure gold for a professional copywriter. And you might be surprised to find some of your unprepared and authentic talk ending up in the final copy.

3) Talk about your customers

Think of real examples of customers you’ve interacted with. Talk about them in detail and explain the kinds of things they do – and perhaps don’t – like about your business. Don’t pause for breath. Don’t worry that it’s ‘information overload’. Keep it coming. This information will help your copywriter quickly hone in on exactly the right approach for your copy.

4) Point to your competitors

No business exists in a vacuum. Provide a list of your closest competitors and explain to your copywriter what you like and don’t like about your rivals’ approaches. This isn’t about copying others. It’s about showing your copywriter the lay of the land, and what peers in your industry are doing well and not so well. That way, he or she has the tools to do it even better.

Similarly, show your copywriter examples you love from businesses from other sectors. Would you die happy to be able to speak about your company like Brand X does? And does the approach of brand Y have you reaching for the sick bucket? Tell your copywriter.

5) Ask for amends

A professional copywriter puts their ego aside. And certainly costs a job with at least one round of amends included. So always speak up if you don’t like something. Copywriting really is a collaborative process and your feedback is going to help sharpen messages and deliver the goods.

One word of warning. Amends should be within the terms of the original brief. For instance if you had agreed on around 500 words for your homepage, but now want a longer format of 1000 words, expect to pay more.

In conclusion

Keep these points in mind when talking to a professional copywriter. And whether you take the lead or the copywriter does, ensure there is a final agreed brief in place before the work begins. That way you both know the lay of the land and the surprises you’ll get will  be only pleasant ones.

Martin Philp is a freelance copywriter providing customer comms, internal comms, blog strategies, newsletters, technical writing and more for brands and SMEs. Talk to him about his professional copywriting services now.


Image: Ears, by sara.lauderdale on Flickr




10 Rules for Writing Catchy Headlines

Catchy Headlines newspaper image – copywriting headlines advice

The catchy headline

Way back in 1998, my editor asked me to write a coverline promoting The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The cover shot featured Jeff Goldblum looking out of sorts. Meanwhile, a pair of hungry-looking dinosaurs loomed.
I had it in an instant.
‘What’s Eating Jeff Goldblum?’
Tickertape fell from the sky. My colleagues hoisted me on their shoulders and paraded their headline-writing wunderkind.
Okay, so they didn’t.
In truth, my editor raised his eyebrows slightly, and nodded. But, despite the muted reaction, I realised I’d nailed it. And it was a pretty cool feeling knowing that over a million copies would be rolling off the presses featuring my four perfect words on the cover.


Catchy Headlines and Copywriting Headlines – ‘What’s Eating Geoff Goldblum’ example from Cable Guide magazine

‘Good headline, copy boy – now start editing those TV listings’



The bad and the plain ugly headline

Meanwhile, during that same early period in my career, I committed some howlers.
Chief sub: Martin, we have three young and sophisticated-looking models. All in red. Two short words, please.
Me: Um.
Chief sub: That’s one word.
Me: Classy cherries.
Chief sub: What?
Me: You know, like glacé cherries…
Chief sub: Keep your voice down, dolt. If the editor hears that you will never, ever, work in this town again.

I swear, bar a little artistic license, that is a true story.


10 rules for writing catchy headlines

Here are 10 rules for writing catchy headlines, based on my 20 years of experience in the industry. Bear in mind, this isn’t about SEO friendly titles – a subject in itself – but principles that work across digital and print. Hopefully they will offer something original and useful. In other words, something more What’s Eating Geoff? than Classy Cherries.

1) Write the headline first

This might seem counterintuitive but, providing you have done your research, write the headline before the story.

Do this and your headline, and the accompanying sell (see below), can help sharpen up the angle for the whole piece. I never think of a headline as the icing on the cake, but a way to help me focus on the right introduction and all that will follow.

2) Consider ‘copy architecture’

What I mean by ‘copy architecture’ is all the elements that make up the top-level copy on the page. The headline, the sell or standfirst (the introduction under the headline), any captions etc. You can only write that star headline – and be absolutely clear about the role it should play – when you know the supporting cast.

For instance, if you have a headline and no sell, your headline better be crystal clear:

APB couriers sends new truck fleet to Saudi

But if you have a headline and a sell, you can use the headline to reel readers in and the sell to deliver further information:

Lorries of Arabia

APB couriers sends new truck fleet to Saudi in £300m deal

What you should never do is be tempted to write a punny or cryptic headline like ‘Lorries of Arabia’ if it can’t be backed up with an explanatory sell.

This is so, so important and leads to the next point.

3) Choose clarity over cleverness

There is a massive temptation among writers to slip in a pun or witticism in the headline. Ask yourself the following:
a) Have I sacrificed clarity for cleverness? If the answer is ever yes then kill your darlings and go for clarity every time. Because headlines are a navigation aid and you must direct your readers before you try to dazzle them.
b) Is the pun or witticism appropriate to the medium, or appropriate at all? As an example, consider my ‘classy cherries’ for those sophisticated fashion models. That was definitely an example of a cheap pun before appropriateness.

4) Write to picture

Whether you are writing a blog post or a magazine article, write your headline with the accompanying image in mind. Like music and lyrics, they are always a double act and will only truly sing together.

Wherever possible, I chase and hassle colleagues in layout or pictures for images. And when I do, my headlines are always better as a result.

5) Be concise

For every headline you write, ask: Is there any way I can snip out excess words without losing impact or clarity? If the answer is yes then do it, because when you are trying to capture attention quickly, brevity is always best.

Not ‘The Scottish circular economy is set to grow’ but ‘Scottish circular economy set to grow.’

Which leads to the next point…

6) Avoid ‘The’

Especially at the start of a headline. This is one of the first rules I learnt from a subeditor. While it might seem like a minor point, ditching the definite article ‘The’ can liven up a headline. See the example in point 5 above.

7) Finish on a high note

Do your concise, catchy headlines fizzle out at the end? Then either chuck them away and start again, or reorder your sentences. Your headline should leave the final word ringing in the reader’s ears. And, bear in mind, designers will often emphasise the final word of a headline too, so it better be a good one. Here’s what I mean:

Booking holidays – success in 12 easy steps

This is okay, but can’t you just feel the promise of the word ‘success’? And then the mild disappointment as we peter out with ‘steps’?

Much better to go for:

Booking holidays – 12 easy steps to success

Or even better, for the sake of brevity and because a series of steps implies a certain easiness anyway:

Booking holidays – 12 steps to success

Is it the most exciting headline in the world? Perhaps not. But it is informative, concise and, with ‘success’ at the end, it generates some positive energy to draw the reader in. And that means it is doing its job.

8) Use the active voice

Clown squirts water at Donald Trump’ is concise and active. The subject of the sentence (the clown) is doing something (squirting water) at the object (Donald Trump).

Meanwhile, ‘Donald Trump is squirted with water by clown’ is passive. The subject (Donald Trump) is having something done to him (being squirted with water) by the object (the clown).

Wherever possible, put the person or thing doing the action at the start of your headline. And if your headline contains an ‘is’ and an ‘ing’ there’s a good chance you’ve got it the wrong way around.

9) Use ‘how to’ and list headlines

I know, I know. They are everywhere right now. (Even in my own headline.) And for good reason. People like to learn something and ‘How to’ is the clearest way to signal you’re going to tell them. ‘10 ways’, meanwhile, is a symptom of the way we like to read on the web – in bite-sized chunks.

Yes, one day – perhaps even soon – the world will grow sick to death of both of these constructions and will point and laugh at the stupid bovine writers who used them. But right now, everyone from bloggers to broadsheet newspapers are toeing the line. And that’s because these constructions generate click throughs and eyes on pages.

10) Remember: less is more

Finally, if you’re writing for an editor or a designer, don’t be tempted to submit too many headlines. Yes, it can help to provide a shorter and a longer version (designers will love you for this). However, 10 headline ideas will suggest to others you never really found the correct one. And they will probably be right about that too.

Martin Philp offers professional copywriting services at Coast Copywriting. He has been supplying headlines for magazines, newsletters, advertisements, blog posts and websites for over 20 years. Take a look at his copywriting services or get more copywriting tips.


Credit: Donald Trump picture courtesy of Ed Ogle. Reproduced under Creative Commons License.


Copywriter Cornwall – 5 Reasons to Work with Coast Copywriting

Hands up who wants to spend their evenings and weekends blogging and writing content for their business website?


No, it’s not top of many people’s list. But doing that essential marketing in your down time can seem like the only option when you are stacked during the working week.


There is another way. Here’s five reasons to work with Coast Copywriting, a cornwall-based copywriting agency.


1) Professional edge

Coast Copywriting is run by a Penzance-based copywriter who offers over 15 years of experience in the industry. You’ll benefit from copy that catches the eye and pulls readers in. Crucially, your messages will help convince, persuade and charm readers into a response – that precious click, sign up, or sale.


2) Cornwall knowledge

As a Cornwall-based copywriting agency, Coast will tailor your messages so they sit just right with the local market. Roofers, builders, mechanics and solicitors all come to me to help them discover the right tone. Often that means not too slick and fancy, but upfront, honest messages that highlight excellent work and a great local reputation.


3) Tourism specialist

Want to attract clients to our beautiful county? Then it makes sense to work with an industry expert. Martin Philp from Coast was chief writer and editor of VisitEngland’s Quality Edge magazine for B&B owners for several years. He is also an established travel writer and knows how to cast a spell over readers until they can feel our Cornish sands between their toes.


4) Big brand experience

You might like to know you’ll be working with a Cornwall copywriting business that helps the most successful companies in the UK. Brands such as Sainsbury, Asda, The Perfume Shop, Tesco, Heinz, Skinny Cow, Jack Daniels and Dove ask for my help. And I can bring that level of expertise and professionalism to your project, too.


5) Does the writing – so you don’t have to

For small and medium-sized businesses, working with a copywriter can bring sheer relief. No more writing content in your down time means you get your life back. (Hello again to surfing, playing with the kids, Sunday newspapers ­– whatever your thing is.) But most importantly it also means your messages are now working as hard as they can to get clients knocking on your door.


If you are looking for a copywriter in Cornwall, Coast can help you now. To talk about a project, ask for a quote or even get a free bit of advice about copy and marketing, call Martin Philp on 07414 865222 or email.


Martin Philp is a freelance copywriter who provides customer-facing, B2B and internal comms copy for websites, blogs, magazines, brochures, product packaging and more. Take a look at his full range of copywriter services.

Photo credits: Seal: John Stratford; Maze Tim Green; St Michael’s Mount: Vin Lane-Kieltyka – all Under Creative Commons license.




Copywriting Tips – How to Create a Tone of Voice Customers Will Love

Tone of voice – elusive, essential

Read a list of copywriting tips and you’ll usually come across some or all of the following:

  • organise your material
  • focus on benefits, not features
  • keep sentences short
  • imagine you’re writing to someone that you know, not an abstract reader
  • end with a strong call to action.

To a greater or lesser extent, these copywriting tips are all measurable – you’re either doing them, or you’re not. But there’s an aspect to good copywriting that can be a little harder to measure. Yet it’s also one of the most important things you’ll want to achieve.

A compelling tone of voice.

What is tone of voice?

The personality of your copy. It’s the degree of warmth, from fairly cool and detached all the way through to I love you and I want your babies (use the latter with caution). And it’s very, very important. Why?

Because people are far more likely to listen to your message if it’s presented in a voice they find engaging and plausible.

Two contrasting examples

Here’s an imaginary example for a fireplace installation firm:

The Big Heating Company actualises your fireplace needs with an integrated, cost-effective warmth-delivery solution.

That’s not engaging. It’s the tone of voice of a robot businessman considering a hostile takeover of your wallet.

How about this?

The Big Heating Company can bring a toasty warm glow to your home at an affordable price.

That’s better. Definitely warmer. It might work for some customers; others might find it a tad too chummy. But whichever way you look at it, it’s saying something similar to the first message in a very different way. And that’s down to the tone of voice.

Your job is to find the right tone of voice to engage your customers.

A note on tone of voice and plausibility

Bear in mind, whichever tone of voice you adopt must agree with your brand. In other words, you will be working within certain parameters. A ‘down with the kids’ tone of voice for an accountancy firm with a reputation for heritage and reliability isn’t going to work – unless it follows in the wake of major rebranding. (And even then I think it’s going to struggle.)

Tone of voice – two simple copywriting tips

Tone of voice might not be as measurable as some copywriting skills, but there are things you can do to help get the result you’re looking for.

Examine the competition

Working from a blank slate is intimidating. In fact, you’re likely to draw a blank. Start by looking at how businesses you admire or like talk to their customers.

Is the language formal and businesslike, or informal, relaxed or even chatty? (And bear in mind formal and businesslike isn’t necessarily bad – sometimes it can be just what you need to cut to the chase and deliver a message.)

Do these businesses use long or short sentences, or both? Do they keep the language and concepts simple, or do they expect their customers to know certain terms.

Create a Word Bank

Collect words and turns of phrase you think reflect your business and your customers. Just list them. Delete them. Add to them. You’ll start to discover a tone of voice. From here, you can begin to add more of your own expressions. A unique voice will emerge.

In my own case, I created a word bank for a client’s print and digital magazine. The magazine was inspired by popular women’s titles, and a snippet of the word bank looked something like this.

Blub, lusting (we are lusting), feast your eyes, fabulous, killer heels, mega, fashionista, elegant, we’re mad about, we are digging, we are loving, loving, gorgeous, look the biz, elegant, glittering, ultra cool, on trend, chic, end of…

Yes, in this condensed form it does sound like an amphetamine-fuelled fashionista. And, yes, this is at the extreme end of stylized, chatty copy. But it helped. At 9.00am, while I dreamily sipped my coffee, this word bank helped me instantly get into character and write in the required tone of voice.

Use these copywriting tips and you’ll get closer to your goal of speaking to your customers in a voice they’ll listen to. And doing that will put you in a better position to start talking about all the benefits you have to offer.

Martin Philp runs Coast Copywriting, professional copywriting services for print and web. Want to chat about your project? Get in touch on 07414 865222 or send a message.


Creative Copywriter Tips – Get Less Passionate and Engaged

Or 5 words and phrases to use with caution

‘Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print,’ said George Orwell.

Oh, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all follow that one?

Here’s five I’m seeing too much of right now.

1) Passionate

‘At [insert company name here], we are passionate about…’

I’m not so sure. If you were really feeling the passion, you wouldn’t use ‘passionate’ on your About Us page. Passionate on corporate websites is such a knee-jerk, mechanical choice, it’s positively heartless. (Oh, the irony.) In my opinion, a creative copywriter will do everything in his or her power to avoid this one.

2) Committed

Where there’s passion on a company blog, commitment lurks nearby hoping to catch a bit of saucy cliché action. Like passionate, it’s an automatic, unthinking choice. And for that reason, it is about as committed as ‘Thanks for that, I’ll call you, yeah?’

3) Media Mix

One day the term didn’t even exist. The next, it’s cut and pasted across the media/PR/ agency internet with a speed that suggests being an unblended and unmixy media organisation is soooo embarrassing. It’s a great example of a phrase that had some currency for about three minutes before it went viral. In the rashy, sore throaty kind of way.

4) Whether you’re a… or a…

I’ve been there. Lost at 2.45 pm, a blood sugar fug overcoming me, I’ve grasped for the old stock ‘Whether…’ opener for that ad or advertorial. And I’ve felt like giving myself a damn good scrub down afterwards. These are dirty, dirty words picked out of bins and covered with bits of ketchup and fries. But I bet every creative copywriter has committed this sin at one time or another.

5) Engaged

I’m almost loathe to include this one, because a whole industry (one I often work in) defines itself with this term. But please, please, please – PR people, politicians, radio pundits, charity professionals, sports commentators, and, yes, internal comms people (note to self), can we all please think twice before we wheel out this bruised, abused, and broken expression… again.

I know, I know. It’s a handy word. It has to be used sometimes. But isn’t it the case that talking about engaging people again, and again, and again, and again, and again makes you look like the least engaged person in the room?

The War on Cliché (and various skirmishes with crapness)

There are so many more. I’ve probably used some in the blog post. And that is the point. We are all offenders. And in the war on cliché, every creative copywriter must be continually vigilant.

And why am I getting so, er… passionate and committed about this? Because effective writing – copywriting or otherwise – evokes emotion. And clichés are tired, spent words. Use them and people won’t feel anything (except perhaps boredom).

And they just aren’t going to buy what you’re selling.


2 piece of takeaway advice

So how do you avoid all those clichés?

1) Roll out the authors’ mantra of show don’t tell.

Don’t talk about your passion and commitment or whatever. Show it. And in your own words, too.

Before: ‘We are passionate about and committed to going above and beyond for our customers.’

After: ‘We regularly stay late to process clients’ last-minute orders, because we want to get your goods to you asap. And we want you to choose us again.’

2) Simply tell yourself ‘good enough is never good enough’.

You know when you’ve lazily rolled out that word or expression into the sentence because you can’t think of an original or better one. Highlight those tired expressions in your copy and dig a little deeper.


Martin Philp is a freelance copywriter who specialises in customer comms, internal comms, B2B and educational writing. See his copywriting services.



Why honesty is the best internal communications plan

Meet the shiny, happy people

Imagine a world where hassled, tired workers are replaced by shiny people grinning at customers. Yes, it’s an employer’s wet dream. And too often it’s the world presented in staff magazines.


There’s one major flaw with this internal communications plan, of course. The people you’re talking to – your staff – won’t be buying this, frankly, bullshit approach. Because it doesn’t reflect their lives. And as any good copywriter will tell you, your job is to find a way to connect with your audience. So why do businesses, and their copywriters, so often persist with this strategy?


In my experience, it’s because businesses see positive spin as the only way and copywriters don’t want to ruffle feathers. Superficially, it’s a win-win for everyone – positive coverage for businesses and happy clients for copywriters. But at a deeper level, it could be a failing internal comms strategy.


A short story about dirty forks

When writing for clients I used to go along with the shiny people internal communications plan because, frankly, I was fairly new to the game and I didn’t know any better. But one evening, I had my Road to Damascus in the shape of… er… Wetherspoon pub chain founder Tim Martin.

Please, stay with me. You see, the plain-speaking, mullet-loving controversialist is fond of sticking his oar in in his customer magazine, answering reader queries. And, nursing a well-priced pint one evening, I came across a column in which the pub chain supremo answered a question about dirty cutlery in his establishments.

Did he deny all knowledge of said manky cutlery and threaten to sue the correspondent? Did he heck. Instead, he marched into one of his chains, presumably sidling past the 09.45am drinkers, and inspected the silverware himself. And, he wrote, in his own customer magazine, that he was indeed shocked at the state of the knives and forks and he’d be sorting it out.

This level of honesty towards customers takes balls. And it’s rarer than you might think in customer-facing comms, internal comms – any comms. I genuinely respected his approach, and developed a brand loyalty to Wetherspoon that had nothing to do with my search for a way to drink slightly over the recommended units at a cost-effective price.

Why you should wash your dirty linen in public

It seemed to me that this respect-through-honesty strategy could apply to an internal communications plan too. Because once you talk to people like they are grown ups they will begin to respect you and listen to those important messages.

Since my ‘Tim Martin epiphany’, I have always pushed my internal comms clients to loosen up a little on the ‘shiny happy’ hard sell. Instead, I encourage them to share their difficulties as well as triumphs. It’s about a little here, a little there. We have to be realistic – a dash of negative appraisal is as much as you might be comfortable with for your brand, but that’s okay. It still paints a broader, more honest picture.


Three ways to bring honesty to internal comms:


  1. Don’t overspin the figures. If it’s been a less-than-great year, or like-for-like sales are down, share this with staff and look at how you’re going to turn it around together.
  2. Go beyond rewards and recognition. Yes, rewarding and recognising staff achievement is a pillar of good internal comms, but share the failures too (without naming individuals, of course). One of the staff magazines I edit has recently introduced verbatim customer complaints. It’s refreshing. A little shocking, even. And it shows there’s room to do better.
  3. Don’t smooth the rough edges. If a staff Q & A respondent admits he took the job ‘for money, basically’ don’t edit it out. Leave it in. People might smile in recognition and realise the business doesn’t take itself too seriously. It becomes their magazine, not yours – and this is so key.

This is ‘not groundbreaking stuff’ shocker


None of this is groundbreaking stuff. We all know that honesty and sincerity can foster a rapport. But businesses often play it too safe with shiny, happy briefs and copywriters often don’t speak up.

For me, it took a story like Tim Martin’s to remind me that, yes, you can talk to people in an honest and sincere way – and gain respect and a positive response through this approach.

The results for my clients have been many wins at internal comms industry awards. And, far more importantly, positive survey feedback from staff and increased enthusiasm for the tone and content of their staff magazines.

Although, in the spirit of this post, I should add that one reader of my internal comms project for a perfume brand told me there were way too many adverts. And another spotted a missing clue on a staff crossword. Whoops. There’s my dirty cutlery moment. Now it’s out in the open, I’ll start cleaning…


Martin Philp creates and writes internal comms strategies for several well-known brands. Most recently, his staff magazines have won MarComm Awards, an Award of Excellence at the Institute of Internal Communications and have been shortlisted for the Content Marketing Awards and awards at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. See more of his professional copywriting services.


IoIC Award is The Smell of Success for Coast Copywriting

Marketing Awards and the New Fragrant Me

Three years ago, if you’d questioned me about the merits of perfumes and aftershaves I’d have looked at you like you were insane.

Why are you asking me about smelly coloured liquids people dab on their bodies? My education in fragrance began and ended at age 16 with Brut 33, Old Spice, and similar ‘man’s man’ scents best worn with a chunky lip rug.

Times have changed. I am now a mini industry of opinions about base notes, top notes and heart notes. I have things to say about Lady Gaga Fame, Madonna Truth or Dare, and Peter Andre Conditional. And I express these opinions in a woman’s tone of voice, somewhere between Grazia and Look!

Please – let me explain.

My metrosexual makeover is all down to the internal communications magazine The Nose. For three years I’ve been managing editor of this staff magazine for The Perfume Shop, on behalf of Indigodog Publishing Limited. In that time I’ve dived into the deep end of the perfume industry, discovering everything from the history of fragrance to the subtle art of using blotters (those little perfume sample sticks) to help win a sale in store. I’ve also worked with my colleagues at Indigodog to develop a tone of voice and look for The Nose, to match our client’s demographic.

To sum up, we’re all deeply involved in the world of perfume retail internal comms. And so we were delighted to learn The Nose had won an Award of Excellence from the Institute of Internal Communications (IOiC].

A big thank you to Indigodog Publishing for asking me to take on the Managing Editor role at The Nose. Having the opportunity to develop a tone of voice and an editorial strategy for a whole magazine is a joy for a copywriter. Working regularly on a title like this – and getting such great positive feedback from staff and the client – has also deepened my knowledge of internal comms.

I also know a lot more about perfume. In fact, these days I’m far less likely to wear aftershaves that take the hairs off your nostrils – definitely a good thing for anyone who meets me at the water cooler.

Martin Philp is a freelance copywriter who offers professional copywriting services to brands, SMEs and agencies. Get in touch now.


Copywriting Tips For Small Businesses #6

#6 Tone of Voice

The way you speak to your customers is perhaps the most important piece of branding you’ll do. Should you adopt a friendly, casual tone? Or does a little distance and formality better reflect the services you offer?


A party goods supply business might get a little familiar, even mildly excitable. A funeral director or accountant might not. (Let’s hope not.) Naturally, these are two ends of the spectrum, and you’re probably somewhere inbetween.

How to create a tone of voice for your business:

  • Look at the competition. How are they talking to their customers? What can you take from their approach? What would you do differently?
  • Create a word bank. Write down words and phrases you think reflect your company’s style. Keep adding to it from time to time. It might seem like an odd thing to do, but it can really help to get the juices flowing when you’re looking for inspiration.
  • Write as if you’re talking to an individual customer that you know, not a faceless group.

Things to watch out for:

  • Don’t underestimate the power of simple, persuasive writing. In most cases, a customer wants to see competency and professionalism, not puns and jokes. Usually, clear, simple messages along with a few friendly and welcoming turns of phrase will do the trick.
  • Even if you’re using a casual or humorous style, don’t let the words run away with you. Twenty-five words where five will do is never funny. (Unless you’re a copywriter getting paid by the word.)
  • If you’re going for light-hearted, don’t overdo the exclamation marks!! It’s the written equivalent of hyperventilating!!!
The end!!!!

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Martin Philp offers professional copywriting services for high street brands and small businesses. Get in touch now.