NBC channel 5 picks up Press Release

The local Channel 5 NBC news team picked up our press release. Pretty cool! Just goes to show the power of the one-pager. Click here to read the release. Happy writing!

Freelance Copywriting in a Down Economy

The downside to a poor economy are layoffs. The upside is a wealth of managers seeking freelance copywriters to fill the gaps left by hiring freezes and outright headcount cuts. Business has never been better to freelance full-time. But don’t worry readers, there’s enough D.Bartel talent to go around.

Favorite Perks include: telecommuting and multi-industry client experience.

Dallas Copywriter Sees Business Change

If you’re a Dallas copywriter or even a Fort Worth copywriter, you may have noticed change happening. This is applies to both full-time writers and freelance. Consider the trends:

Your mailbox: More fliers offering discounts, fewer catalogs. Those catalogs that do appear weigh less than they did last year due to shrinking page counts.

Newspapers: Star-Telegram owner McClatchy announces 1,400 layoffs, closes Washington bureau, cuts 130 at Star-Telegram. One ad exec for a local retailer told me she’s predicting upcoming cuts for her company’s pre-print division. Reason: “No one is buying newspapers anymore,” she said. Ouch.

Ad-choo! : Experts predict as much as $160 billion in advertising will blow away in 2009. Cough. Sneeze. Gone.

Writer hires: Industries you wouldn’t expect are looking for copywriters: Medical insurance, military, research firms, roofing companies (!?!). A heightened interest in the hard skills (proofreading, copyediting, proposal writing, niche-oriented technical writing), less emphasis on the editorial (at least in D-FW).

Whoopdy-Doo, what does it all mean? Basically this: When ad dollars retreat, pages get cut, people get cut, priorities change.

Then again, some industries are doing well, such as medical and education are recruiting writers like crazy, everything from proposal writers to technical writers.

So, if you do fancy yourself a “creative” writer, it’s not too late to change. Re-evaluate, reassess and, most of all, improve your skills: take that graphic design class you keep putting off; dust off that old style book and read it; blog, write articles for free (that’s right, you heard me); become an expert at something. Expand, learn, grow — network until you’re out of business cards and the fabric on your shirt is worn from affixing so many sticky “Hello, my name is” tags. Charm the pants off everyone you know.

Most of all, you’ll go farther if you think of yourself as a skilled word mechanic rather than a creative “artiste.” Effective writing is not about expression, it’s about information. No one wants to read you diary except your mother.

Online Retail’s Peculiar Itch

First, it affected poor Richard Sherman living next door to Marilyn Monroe. From that, married people everywhere learned the term. And now, online shoppers are equally affected by it. After a period of 7 years, the body stirs, the blood quickens, and curiosity reaches critical mass — this time, known as the 7-year itch.

After 7 years of purchasing plane tickets and computers on the web, Forrester Research tells us online customers eventually cozy up to the idea of purchasing “more tactile” categories such as “toys, jewelry, and sporting goods.” See article.

Meaning that after enough time, online shoppers eventually broaden their shopping horizons. That’s good news for online retailers. Not so good if you consider what online customers are after these days. (Check out the parking lots at Nordstrom’s and compare with that of Wal-Mart or Target and you’ll see what I mean.)

This has forced retailers to rise to the occasion, which they’ve been doing…to a fault. Pop-ups, email blasts, drop-down ads, “free shipping” offers everywhere. You’ve seen them. I can’t check web news without some big full-screen ad taking over. It’s the online ad equivalent of Marilyn-in-a-whispy-skirt-standing-on-a-subway-grate. Retailers are throwing everything at us they can think of … and as well they should.

With 9-12% revenue drops this past September and October and lackluster Black Friday sales, fourth quarter report cards could mean the difference between a love note from customers and a “Dear John/Jane” letter.

Copywriting good, Redesign BETTER

I’m not so naive to think great copywriting is all you need to boost online sales — though it definitely helps. Experts are recommending companies with weak online sales up their traffic through doing a web site redesign (overhaul, if necessary).

This month, Internet Retailer reports as many as 60% of 240-plus retail companies surveyed have already done a redesign in the past year; 75% expect to do so within the next 12 months from Internet Retailer here.

Some interesting facts, according to the IR article:

  • Timeframe for most Web site redesigns is 3 to 18 months, depending on the complexity.
  • Costs for a Web site redesign depends on the size and scope: A small retailer, $3,000 for outside creative help; a mid-size retailer can range from $5,000 to $15,000; big retailers, up to $50,000.
  • Most merchants are focusing on better navigation and organization.

Some e-tailers are also opting for Flash (web animations), which is a big no-no. Dallas copywriter and web designer Leslie Lee at Laughing Cat warns against the perils of Flash for the very reason that Flash doesn’t contain text, which is how a search engine locates, indexes and ranks your web site. Out of sight, out of mind, so to speak.

So, redesign tip: skip the “flashy” intro and focus on adding effective, well-optimized copy.

Copywriting example

Here’s an example of copywriting at its best. A great headline about some less-than-great news: “D’ow! Credit fear socks it to stocks,” from the July 27th edition of the New York Daily News, about last week’s 311 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. What investor – especially those who lost tons of mula – couldn’t relate to Homer’s famous expletive? A good reminder that the best copy is punchy, artful and something memorable.

Driving Miss SEO

This month, E-Commerce Times ranked the most significant e-commerce developments to happen in the last decade. The article is titled: “10 E-Commerce Events That Shook the Last 10 Years,” presumably for dramatic effect. Guess who was number one? Big surprise.

1. Google (Sept. 1998)
2. Broadband Penetration of US Internet Users Reaches 50 percent (June 2004)
3. eBay Auctions (Launched Sept. 1997)
4. Amazon.com (IPO May 1997)
5. Google Ad Words (2000)
6. Open Standards (HTML 4.0 released - 1997)
7. WiFi (802.11 launched - 1997)
8. User-Generated Content (YouTube 2005)
9. iTunes (2001)
10. BlackBerry (1999)

It’s quite possible a car company could make the list in the next decade, according to some analysts. Already, car companies Jeep and BMW are designing vehicles with Internet capabilities. All you do is plug your Web-cell phone or Blackberry into a port located near the transmission and you can surf the Web by watching it on the Heads-Up Display (HUD) of your windshield.

And you thought fender-benders from people gabbing on cell phones was high. Even still, this could be the next big thing in the search business. Drivers want more than GPS systems to help when they’re lost. Imagine locating the nearest place to tune-up or finding the nearest movieplex without having to call information.

Sites that are the best optimized will fare best in this new landscape of search driving.

Urdu for an Upgrade

In copywriting, you can’t stake a reputation on sounding pretty. But this Indian newspaper has been successful for 80 years by LOOKING pretty. A team of calligraphers at “The Musalman” toil three hours each day transferring reporter’s stories into Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, also spoken in India. Talk about a model of inefficiency! The paper maintains this archaic process, however, because of its faithful audience. The predominantly Muslim readership favors handwritten language as part of a long cultural tradition ¬– one that, with the advent of computer automation, is fading. The Musalman is thought to be one of the last known handwritten newspapers in the world.

Pier 1 leaves e-commerce

Here’s a retail shocker: Pier 1 Imports is quitting the catalog and online shopping business. The venerable home furnishings store, among the nation’s largest, continues to struggle with cost cutting and profitability, according to the online trade magazine, Multichannel Merchant. That’s unfortunate because Pier 1’s marketing copywriting is some of the best on the Web. Check out this copy on a simple settee from the Pier 1’s site:

“Inspired by the mythological Phoenix bird that represents eternity, our hand-woven rattan settee is a timeless favorite. Its gracefully curved fan back is reminiscent of the beautiful span of the bird’s tail. Perfectly at home in a variety of indoor environments, our hand-crafted settee is stained dark brown with a lacquer finish. Coordinating pieces also available. A Pier 1 exclusive.”

Graceful and creative copywriting without overdoing it. I was fond of former CEO Marvin Girouard. He was a character and fun to speak with, kind of like a 60-year-old kid. He built Pier 1 Place, which I wrote about: dbartel.com/work/dbj/dbj92704.html, in 2004, the year before he retired. The enormous structure was designed in the shape of a giant “M” which stood for “Momentum,” he told me. Unfortunately, the company has seen anything but that.

The end of the catalog and Internet business doesn’t bode well for the company - that is, unless the current chief, Alex Smith, can spin straw into gold. Smith might send away for the Allen Questrom “Guide to Retail Turnaround” (if only one existed).

Long Tail economics

The once-invincible segment of online retailing is showing weakness, according to the New York Times. See article. Online shopping has tapered off significantly since the dizzying heights of 2004 when growth was a booming 25%. Further calming is expected to continue, according to the NYTimes article.

An overall lag makes sense when you consider the overabundance on the Web. Once boon to shoppers with mall phobias, online shopping has turned into a headache. Customers get the stuffing knocked out with all the different options - the same curtains available in 30 different colors, on 15 different Web sites, in 20 different countries. It’s enough to drive you mad.

To combat the Internet fatigue, the E-commerce Times recommends targeting the “Long Tail” end of the market.

This low-volume, low-demand segment is comprised of shoppers looking for very specific or esoteric items, e.g. a fishing enthusiast looking for an antique lure, or a book collector seeking a rare volume.

These types of sales don’t add up to that much - individually, that is. In truth, long tail customers make up a silent majority. Studies of e-tailers like Bizrate.com or Amazon point to a high proportion of customers seeking obscure items not stocked by mainstream brick-and-mortar operations. Niche or specialty businesses that tap a micro-segment can reap fantastic profits by “offering an unlimited selection of high-margin items at a fraction of the cost of a brick-and-mortar,” the article said.

The article also mentioned psychology terms that e-tailers should start adopting such as the “wisdom of crowds.” Merchandiser should stop trying to predict what customers want and starts paying attention to recommendations they’re making to each other. E-tailers have to think about the group instead of the individual.