Blog Archives

New standalone Copy Savvy website

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copywriting courses in melbourne

Our new Copy Savvy site explains all.

Copy Savvy – our heralded copywriting workshop for the real world – has its own dedicated website. Enjoy.

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If HUGE multinational horse meat retailers can fake humanity…

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Brits have closer, more passionate relationships with their supermarkets than we in Oz. After all, some grocers have histories longer than our period of European settlement. No wonder Napoleon famously described Britain as “une nation de boutiquiers” – a nation of shopkeepers.

crisis management copywriting

Tesco wants to put horsemeat behind it.

The recent horsemeat scandal has rocked faith in supermarkets and supply chains.

Roll in the crisis manegement experts.

One move from the classic crisis playbook is the full page newspaper advertisement / apology.

We don’t really like corporations but when they (or their agency) write well, we pay credit. This ain’t half bad – for a company that sold horsemeat. Would you be so conversational in a crisis? Hope so.

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Communications vs conversion. Opt to convert.

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Hootville is beginning to hold a grudge against the term “communications”. We don’t think that nonprofit “communications” professionals are really in the communications game. Or at least they shouldn’t be. We think that they should be in the conversion game.

After all, “communications” is all about telling, informing and (oh dear) raising awareness. Aren’t we more about getting people to change their minds, alter behaviour and take action? Don’t we want Jane Citizen to join up, fork out or jump on board? That’s what conversion is all about. The only point in communicating to Jan is to convert her into a staff member, volunteer, donor, activist or client.

Salespeople want to convert browsers into buyers. You should feel likewise. Our definition of conversion may entail having someone donate, volunteer, attend an event, use a service, refer a friend or lobby a politician. It can be as simple as converting a website visitor into an email subscriber.

Conversion should be an ongoing obsession for communications people. People are already aware of lots of things from child poverty to obesity. Who cares? Unless they are converted into taking action, nothing changes. Corporate marketers don’t give a damn about “communicating”; to them it’s all about converting.

marketing conversion formula
MECLABS’ conversion formula can help you tweak your marketing.

There are formulae for all sorts of things; maths mainly. Euler’s formula is considered a mathematical classic and rated by scientists as one of the world’s most “beautiful” formulae. We are ill-placed to critique this claim. Never mind; we’ve been ogling the above conversion formula which comes to us from MECLABS.

conversion formula

The key.

Decisions to buy, volunteer, donate, apply, subscribe, attend (different conversions) do not happen for one reason. There are multiple factor behind whether anyone takes an action (is converted).

C = conversion. If it helps, think of converting as making a sale. Naturally you want to maximise this.

M = motivation. Motivation could be substituted for words such as: excitement, desire, openness to suggestion or eagerness. The creators of this formula at MECLAB see it as important (thus the 4m). The more motivated the target, the easier the conversion. Your targets experience different levels of motivation at different times. Eg: tax time may motivate donors (seeking tax deductions). Significant media coverage of your issue may create a more motivated target for you the following day.

Events in people’s lives create huge, often short-lived surges in motivation. Those finishing secondary school (and their parents) are suddenly highly motivated to investigate tertiary education options; new parents may feel suddenly motivated to take out insurance or learn some parenting skills; moving house motivates endless purchasing and may create a desire for social connections. Retirement may spark a motivation for safe investments and volunteer options.

What do / can you do to approach your target when she is more motivated? Well you can communicate in a way that sparks strong reactions so motivation increases. Your approach may be positive or negative but no marketer has ever milded a target into action. From the words you write to the images you utilise – ensure that they increase the likelihood of conversion.

Timing is important to increase conversions. Clearly you want to reach people when they are most motivated or open to your suggestions whether that be time of year (Christmas, birthday, tax time, school terms) or event-based.

Time of year events are easy to plan for. Mind you; every other marketer tries to use these opportunities. We think that the latter category, events; holds promise. Shape your offer (aka value proposition) to the motivation du jour.

V = value proposition. Each and every time you talk to someone via your marketing you need to clearly and persuasively explain why you are the right choice; the best, the leader. Don’t just promote foster caring – promote your organisation as the one through which to foster. Are you the environmental group that fights the BIG battles? Tell ‘em. Do you get more people with disabilities more work, more often? Let ‘em know. Nonprofits are generally weak in this regard. This is a great article on value propositions. A strong value proposition makes you irresistible and motivates people to choose you, you alone and to choose you now.

I = incentive. Can you create an incentive? Maybe it’s financial such as an early-bird discount. Perhaps it’s a special offer such as an upgrade or 2 for 1. Want a bigger email database? Offer an incentive cheapskate.

It’s not all about greed. Many prospective foster carers delay actingon their good impulses for years. We advised foster care recruiters to promote attending a July information night by explaining that by attending in July they might be ready to give a foster child a home for Christmas. This aims to create an incentive to get people off the couch and attending the information night. Incentives inspire action NOW not later.

F = friction. Here’s where it gets tough. Meet friction. Friction is everything that stops people taking action now. You know how some NFPs think it’s OK to ask readers to print off an application form and mail it back? That’s friction. So too is the inability to register and pay for a course on the spot. So too is a long-winded speech when a short one would suffice. So too is a slow or hard to navigate website or far-flung venue. So too is voicemail as opposed to having a call answered first-up. It goes on. Banish self-inflicted headwinds.

A = anxiety. People are not generally pre-disposed to joining in, getting involved or giving money. They might not use the term “anxiety” to describe their thinking but in their heads are many questions: “If I sign up will I be pestered with 1000 emails?” “Will they use my money wisely?” “Is the proposed solution likely to work?” “Is this a lost cause?” Use words, testimonials and whatever else is at your disposal to overtly quell such anxieties. 30-day money back guarantees are all aimed to counter anxiety. So are 12-month warranties, back-up coaching following a training session, easy unsubscribe options. Anticipate and quell anxieties.

Questions to ask. Review your communications and probe yourself accordingly:

Conversion: Are we specifically trying to convert targets or just communicate? (Be honest.) Do our words and images really motivate people? Or are they just vanilla? List some conversions for which you can aim.

Motivation: What efforts do we make to connect to targets when they are particularly motivated? Do we consider what people are doing at certain times and change our approach accordingly? Could we find ways to detect what might be happening in people’s lives so that we can connect to them at the opportune moment?

Could you partner with an organisation to reach targets at opportune, motivated times? Could schools link you to parents of kids about to drop out of education? Could Councils alert you to new pet owners or recent arrivals?

Incentives: How often do we offer incentives? Incentives can be material – never underestimate what people will do for an iAnything. Do we offer early bird bonuses, Oxfam Fairtrade gifts et al?  Do we explain the connection between upgrading a donation from $50 to $100 to the delivery of an extra place in your course for parents of kids with autism?

Value proposition: how well do we explain why we are the organisation to trust and support? What makes us special and the best? How well do we express this?

Friction: Where do we slow, annoy, confuse and befuddle our way out of conversions?

Anxiety: What worries our targets and how can we allay these fears?

Your thoughts most welcome.

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Some wiki, wiki good copywriting

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great copy writing for fundraisers

There are few more successful nonprofit ventures.

We don’t know this thankyou letter from Wikipedia was written in-house or via an agency but it’s a great example of good fundraising copywriting. We have the great Tom Ahern to thank for bringing it to our attention. (If you fundraise, read Tom.)

If only all copy were as passionate, personal, grateful and grand as this. Great Wiki copy.

Our only criticism is that it might, just might be 100 or so words too long. But who cares? It’s great copy.




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Great nonprofit marketing. Lessons for us all.

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The NDIS campaign Every Australian Counts continues to kick goals with test sites and growing public support.


nonprofit marketing examples

Note how the page places the anger-inspiring message right next to the simple call to action. Bravo.

This recent imagery from the campaign’s website is a text book example of simplifying a complex, devlishly detailed issue into a slam dunk issue: that some people are able to have just two showers a week. Frankly this is a simplistic statement and far from 100% true. Who cares? It’s true for many and it symbolises other indignities the disabled face.

Every Australian Counts could have watered down its argument, nuanced it, made it less confronting. Thank goodness it didn’t. Let the meek inherit the Earth – they won’t know what to do with it anyway.

Our only unsolicited advice would be that such a bold statement requires more explanation. Regular sympathetic folk may wonder why disabled people only have two showers weekly. Well inadequate access to carers at the right time of day means only two showers weekly. As it stands, the copy is attention-grabbing but a little confusing.

Another positive is that the campaign opted for strong, clear, symbolic imagery and design. Bravo. Would it have been even stronger with imagery of someone waiting beside a shower? That’s for Design Court to decide.

nonprofit marketing course

Get 'em angry , then give them a way to take action. And don't let 'em leave your site until you've extracted their email.

Left is another execution of the same idea, this time focussing on the one item every abled body person understands – wheelchairs. More good nonprofit marketing. Again, the claim requires more explanation.

The copy, cleverly plays on readers’ patriotism. It’s not anti-Australian but implies that the current services for disabled Australians are not what we’d expect. Cunning.  

It looks like Australians with a disability are finally finding their mojo. Queensland and Victoria’s Premiers were both taken aback by the level of condemnation they received for holding out on establishing test sites. Even commercial talkback radio abounded with angry calls.

With the disabled up and angry the next great ignored, unserved and misunderstood minority should be taking notes and taking action. The aged. It’s possible and it’s about time.

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Need content? Think lists.

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Your website’s visitors and Google both want content – probably much more content than you are providing right now. Some organisations labour under the misapprehension that they don’t have content worth publishing. That’s wrong, unless you have no expertise, no opinions and no advice in which case you have bigger problems than finding web content.

One trick of copywriters that started with lifestyle sections of newspapers and magazine that has spread like syphilis to the online world is the list story.

list based stories for copywriters

List stories offer quick bitey, news nugetts.

The list story is just that – a list devoted to a topic. Brett used to churn some of these out when writing for The Melbourne and Sydney Weeklies. You know the sort of thing: 7 ways to beat the heat this Summer, The four hottest acts of the comedy festival, Three ways to land that big promotion, Six ways to add thousands to the value of your home. And on and on…

The TMW / TSW editorial team would devise a list story when deadlines were tight. It got the job done and no one got hurt.

List stories are everywhere, nowhere more so than online.

Free yourself by using the list format on a regular basis. Sit down, preferably with some smart colleagues and tally up a collection of possible list stories – that’s right a list of lists.

Five ways to reduce your chance of an asthma attack today.

Four ways to talk to your kids about your illness.

Six places you can contact for help if you lose your job this year.

You have the knowledge in your organisation; so use it.

Now in a post-modern twist we have a list-based story from BlogSpot that gives advice on – you guessed it – list-based stories. And no, we won’t now list three reasons to read it. Just read it and if you oike it, share it with the buttons below.

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Good copy part one: Ambrose Bierce

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Bierce brought irony, wisecrackery and smartarsery to popular media.

As a media-related company intent on world domination we’ve read The Chief with great  interest. It’s the exhaustive biography of the original media magnate William Randolph Hearst. As a newspaper publisher Hearst paid over and above the odds to gain the services of columnist and commentator Ambrose Bierce who was scathing in a way that seems out of step with his era (1842 – 1913).

Bierce was famous for his snark and his publication of The Devil’s Dictionary. Here’s a sample for all you language lovers out there.

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copywriting advice for social media, online and old fashioned print

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During last week’s Copy Savvy webinar one question posed by all participants was more or less this: “How do we write appropriately for online communications – website, social media and eNewsletters – as compared to print? What should we do differently?”

This is a logical concern which implies that writers should write differently for different media as they have different qualities. This is true, though we think it misses one consideration that is even more important: audience.

We’ve included some tips for online writing below but here’s our point:

The tone you use, the issues you raise and the content you publish should be primarily influenced by your purposes and the audience at which you are aiming; not the medium.

Let’s compare writing a brochure for your broad-based disability service and writing online copy. The brochure will end up in GP waiting rooms, on the trestle table at community expos and on your reception desk. Yes the fact that it is a brochure will influence how you write. More influential though, should be the broad audience to which you are speaking, which has very little awareness of you and very little demonstrated commitment to you. This audience is largely chancing across your information so write accordingly.

People visiting your website are there by choice. You can presume some interest in your content, some connection to your cause albeit fleeting. Depending on the page they are visiting you may be able to assume that they are people with a disability looking for a service, carers of people with a disability, people looking to work at your organisation or prospective donors. Each audience should be addressed with a different tone. Changing tone for each audience is more important than changing tone for the medium.

Look at your website. Does the tone change from section to section to reflect the audience? There should be no one single audience for your website.

Progressing from websites to more social media such as Facebook, eNewsletters or Twitter the audience changes again as much as the media. People who choose to befriend or befollow* you have demonstrated an active interest in you. To some degree these audiences share your concerns, so talk to them in a manner befitting a friend or colleague. You can expect some support, some emotional connection.

social media training example

The Council of Adult Education’s Twittering shows great understanding of the medium. It is fun, personal, helpful. Kudos CAE.

That said; of course there are some rules of thumb to apply to online writing.

Online attention spans are minimal so copy should be shorter. That said, Google likes 600-800 words a page as it believes these sites to be more genuine, more worthy of reference.

Search engine optimisation is key so write with your researched keywords in mind. (More about this in SEO Savvy 101 Thursday October 27). Use them early and often.

Use more images to bring your copy to life.

Change tone based on the section of the website for which you are writing. Are you trying to connect to donors, volunteers, job applicants, service users?

Utilise the ability to link to other articles and audio.

Why wouldn’t you utilise the ability to embed video?

You need to be genuinely committed to creating an ongoing flow of copy over time in the style of a magazine as we’ve written about previously.

social media training

This displays zero understanding of the specific medium.

Social media copy should be the most personal, passionate.

Your copy should read as if it come from a person not an organisation.

Social media is all about sharing content of mutual interest. Not shameless plugging.

*there is no such word

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nonprofit copy and slogans – is yours boring?

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Citizens of Hootville will know that we detest the boring and the bland. We despise copy that fails to acknowledge that your audiences have other (though not better) things to do with their time. 


copywriting advice

Would you donate to Nicole? Brrrr.

We regularly witness boring and bland headlines, eNewsletter subject boxes, merchandise copy and organisational slogans. This leaves us cold – Nicole Kidman cold.

Good copy is infused with the spirit of your organisation – and it ought to be a spirit worthy of attention: one that inspires, empathises and distinguishes.

At the heart of most nonprofit communications is a desire to gain support of readers – membership, donations, assistance to lobby, volunteer and the like.

We don’t know about you but we are rarely inspired to help some bland organisation, which may be why we don’t go out and volunteer for a bank.

Volunteer? Hell; we fail to switch banks or even use the extra services of the bank we do use*; despite the billions spent on advertising. Why? Because they rarely reach us on an emotional level. Emotions are key to inspiring action so aim for them. 

You need to write copy that makes punters feel something. Put into words the feeling might be: “They know how I feel. They get it. These people are onto something. These are people I want to help. These are people who can help me.”

Yeah; stop freeloading you non-members.

Professional sports teams understand this. They live and die on membership and thus invest hugely on recruitment and retention. The vibe is jocular, exciting, militaristic, missionary. Everything is infused with: “We’re in this together. Get with the strength. There’s strength in numbers. Let’s be a part of something together. Non-members aren’t part of the family.”

It’s not quite: “You are with us or you are a big fat loser,” but close.

Wow - that's a lot of bogans.

It’s hard to argue with a nonprofit membership marketing campaign that gains 70,000+ people willing to fork out hundreds a year. In no small part members join to feel a part of something bigger. The marketing understands this. Everything is aimed at sparking an emotional response leading to an action. 

So are ‘real’ nonprofits aiming at our hearts and minds? Two positive examples come to mind.

nonprofit marketing

Don't you want to stick it to the bad guys? We do too. Go Amnesty.

We think this Amnesty t-shirt is a fine example of a nonprofit presenting itself less like a worthy issue and more like a team worthy of support. It displays humour, pride and plays on dozens of corporate slogans that use the same structure: [Company name] [doing something] since [enter year]. Eg: Hootville Communications. Grumpily self-promoting since 1999. Amnesty is aiming at our sense of justice. Bravo.

nonprofit marketing advice
The people reading this are just the sort of people who believe in standing up. Good copy.

“Yeah – we need to fight the bad guys. Thank God someone is. Go Amnesty.”  

We also like Environment Defenders Office Victoria’s slogan. They are a band of lawyers aiming at better environmental outcomes by fighting for law reform and occasionally taking bad guys to court. No one else does this. The slogan? EDO Victoria: The Environment’s Legal Team.


We like it – again it’s confident, battle ready, explains EDO’s point of difference and plays on a phrase we know, ‘legal team’.

“Yeah –  at least some of the smart lawyers are on the environment’s side. I’m sick of the big guys hiring the best lawyers and screwing the environment. Go EDO!” 

Good slogans and good copy all display chutzpah. (Look it up Christians.)  

If you’ve read this far you should read this.

*Hootville uses Coutts and the Reserve Bank of Australia.

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Headline writing advice #1 be very interesting

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We used these examples in our Copy Savvy 101 webinar to show how easy it is to write a lazy headline when interesting content lies within.

These headlines are actually subject box copy for eNewsletters but the fundamental truth remains: be interesting or go unread.

Subject box headlines for eNewsletters are more important than regular headlines as they will be a major factor in the decision the reader makes to open or not open your work.

We know it ain’t easy but headlines are there to entice, intrigue and cajole. Why not segment your list into two and test two subject box headlines – one straight, one not?

It’s a crime to have your words go unread.


headline writing advice




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