Next time someone tells you that your idea ‘isn’t very us’ tell them to watch an advert for a bank

Yet another high street bank has smashed it out of the park with their latest cute piece of advertising. Santander’s ‘Piggy’ ad is so perfect that I immediately googled ‘how do I get a Santander piggy bank’ and was all too happy to share the video far and wide.

If you didn’t hold up your hands in horror at 0:23 then you’re not human. I tested it on my partner (who is usually ironclad with this sort of stuff) but even she started crying around 15 seconds in.

This got me thinking, why do we identify with this lost pig? Why do we care? Is it the sad human-like eyes; the superb anthropomorphic animation against a backdrop of heart-wrenchingly sad music; or is it something deeper – a human need to protect the weak and be the hero of the story? Whatever it is, this piece of advertising is a masterclass in pathetic fallacy and manufacturing empathy. I want to jump in, give the kids at 0:20 a stern talking to and welcome that pig into a loving home.

You wouldn’t think this advert comes from an organisation where  ‘consistent and growing profitability, as well as a strong balance sheet’ are top of the strategic agenda. If anything, the ad pushes against this, opting for a deeper emotional connection – we’re here for you, trust us, we’ve got this.

Banks: Where creative advertising lives

Every time someone tells me that an idea ‘doesn’t fit with our image’ or isn’t ‘the Company X way of things’ I immediately point them to a bank’s YouTube channel.

Since the 2008 financial crash, I’ve seen some brilliant and risky positioning by banks to rebuild trust and loyalty with customers. More recently, I’ve seen banks like Halifax – previously famous for the awful ‘who gives you extra’ – do an about face and target the younger generation, who now, despite all odds, are trying to get on the housing ladder.

Can you imagine the reaction to this video when the concept was first unveiled in the boardroom:

“We’re going to use Top Cat as the new face of Halifax – Tip Top! We’re going for millennial home buyers who want extra!”
*A man in a suit faints*
“It’ll be fine. We’ve got Scooby Doo and Wizard of Oz lined up for next quarter.”

It doesn’t stop there. Halifax are also using recognisable shows like the Flintstones and Thunderbirds to sell savings accounts. It’s awesome and fun. I don’t believe it’s simply a publicity stunt, the depth and breadth of the creativity points to a slight repositioning of the bank – the tone of these cheeky assets running through the top pages of its website, and down into sub-content on ‘saving tips’ presented by Brains himself.

The irreverence and playfulness of the ideas will attract new customers. Turning your homepage into a cartoon is risky business – not very bank-like? – yet these assets will continue to resonate with their target audience, the bank trading on the nostalgia factor for years to come.

Think of the audience, not your history

Universities are terrible at taking risks. Watch a university ad and it won’t take long for you to see a ‘green campus’ at the heart of a ‘culturally diverse’ city. Yawn. The bulk of universities are youth brands. Surely this permits greater risk-taking than that of Halifax or Santander?

The challenge is communicating to senior stakeholders that a departure from standard positioning, isn’t a departure from core values.

Top Cat may be talking ‘mular’, but the advisor is still determined to ‘give him extra’ where other banks perhaps won’t. It’s the same with Santander’s Piggy – not what you would expect from a global investment bank, but a perfect use of emotional marketing to make the target audience sit up and listen.

Are degree apprenticeships the best kept secret of a generation?

If I said that today’s students could get a debt-free degree, graduate with 4 years’ work experience and earn a respectable salary while doing so, would you believe it?

Degree apprenticeships have arrived and, according to UCAS, there are a growing number of young people snapping them up. These new degrees are changing the way students experience university; balancing full-time work with study and then immediately applying what they learn to a job. It’s a quiet revolution against the traditional 3-year campus experience, which can lead to low employment, in-flexible working, employer knock-backs and, at worse, standing in long queues at the job center.

It’s true – a traditional undergraduate degree isn’t worth the same as it was 10 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, it was no walk in the park for the class of 2008, who left the green pastures of university life and stepped into the world’s first global financial crisis. But, relatively speaking, employers (myself included) are expecting a lot more from young people entering the workplace for the first time. I was recently interviewing for a communications position and it didn’t escape my attention that most candidates had masters qualifications, and some, even PhDs…  Jesus. How do these people fit it all in? How do they afford it? Why is a PhD student applying to work for me?

This is why I think degree apprenticeships are awesome. Instead of compounding the problem of education inflation – the injustice of a Doctor of Philosophy working for an English grad – they are taking a refreshing and proactive approach to educating students for gaps and upcoming opportunities in the employment market. Finally!

How do degree apprenticeships work?

Apprenticeships aren’t a new thing. For years school leavers have opted to learn a trade or practical skill on the job. Degree apprenticeships take this winning format and turn up the volume. Apprentices receive executive-level professional training, higher level teaching and work a full-time job with regular opportunities for progression.

Another way to think of degree apprenticeships is a reboot of the placement year. Rather than cramming all of your work experience into a single year, it’s now spread out over four or five to give you a more realistic and immersive understanding of work. Invaluable stuff.

Yet, despite all the benefits offered by a stable income, secure job, and a fully funded degree, take up for these new qualifications is still relatively low. Why?

One reason is their scarcity. Most employers are only just catching on that degree apprenticeships are a viable way to recruit and develop talent. Another is the pervading attitude that apprenticeships lead to low employment – an outdated view held by generations who went to university for free and walked into jobs with only a degree to their name.

Making way for a new kind of education

Times are changing. The UK’s leading online student community The Student Room recently surveyed their users to discover a shift in opinion amongst young people. 61% of prospective students are now interested in apprenticeships with 48% believing that apprenticeships do not lead to low employment, turning their back on the views championed by their parents and, sometimes, even secondary school teachers.

This was the case for one of Aston University’s degree apprentices, who had to challenge the will of her tutor to get where she is today: working in marketing for Microsoft. I wrote about her story recently and, as you can imagine, it got a lot of attention. Since starting her qualification, she has been promoted to Events Manager and now probably earns more than I do with 10 years work experience. She’s 19.

The bottom line is that degree apprenticeships are creating exceptional people. If you are a student, my advice is to get in now, while the competition is still relatively flat. Similarly, even if you already have your degree, there is nothing stopping you from doing a degree apprenticeship post-graduation, transforming you into some supercharged graduate-apprentice. After all, degree apprenticeships are not just aimed at school leavers.

What’s next?

Within a few years, I expect students will see degree apprenticeships as a mainstream route and places will become much, much tougher to secure. From business to engineering and manufacturing, there are a wide variety of options available for those keen to start earning earlier. Depending on the choice of apprenticeship, students may even graduate with professional status – this is important. New graduates often have to take costly professional qualifications on top of their degree to keep pace and be recognised by their sector. A lot of my millennial peers are now doing professional qualifications to this end, if we have had the option of degree apprenticeships, we could have saved ourselves the trouble.

Young people today

Young professionals today are expected to be superhuman. Very few employers now ‘take a punt’ on a new graduate coming through the door, if they even open it in the first place. Employers want experience, they want people who can innovate, and within weeks of working, expect to see value added.

Degree apprenticeships give employers a stake in an apprentice’s future. It’s a huge advantage. A long-term apprenticeship – rather than hopping between internships and placements – will give apprentices deep, specialist skills and experience. The sort of thing I like to see in a portfolio.

So, do you believe it? A job right from the start and learning based on what you do, rather than what you hope to. A full salary and the chance for a young professional to get their career going the second they are done with school. The opportunity to progress, every year, without the headache of finding a job after university. Degree apprenticeships are ambitious and screaming out for generation z.

But keep that to yourself.

“I got a detention for refusing to write a personal statement; now I work for Microsoft.”

In my role, I have the privilege of learning from young people. Working in a university, I’m surrounded by success stories: students starting their own business, landing £40K salaries on their placement years and getting positions at super trendy companies like Google or Microsoft.

My colleagues and I celebrate and admire these achievements, whilst simultaneously kicking ourselves for not doing something similar. Not that we had the option – our schools and parents sent us down a very narrow route to university without placement years or work experience. That could wait until after the fact.

How ridiculous does this sound now? In a world of students packing their summers with internships and purchasing billboards to land their first job. It’s why I’m so impressed by Katie and the story I’m about share. Here’s a person just starting out professionally and already wise enough to see through advice that would be detrimental to her career.

Mentors and why I look to the young

A previous line manager suggested that I get a mentor, but I’m yet to take the advice. Typically, a mentor is someone older, more experienced who can help you avoid the common pitfalls that befell them in their career. Good stuff, but not quite what I’m looking for.

I’ve noticed that the older I get, the less open to change and risk-taking I am. Having a mortgage, sanding down walls at the weekend and talking with my colleagues about the intricacies of finding a good plasterer, are certainly not the most fertile breeding grounds for innovation.

This is a generalisation, but I’m looking at patterns and trends, rather than stand-out cases. The majority of us aren’t entrepreneurial, we do great things and make positive changes in our organisations, but we look forward to going home in the evening. This is why I turn to young professionals.

For me, an essential ingredient for career development is to be inspired (a lot) and career hungry students and graduates, ready to sacrifice sleep to get a foot on the ladder, are the sort of people I want to be associated with. I think sometimes the youth of a generation can teach us far more about the future of work than established thought leaders. After all, it is rarely those at the top, the authority, who disrupt the status-quo.

See also: The origins of Facebook

See also: This rise of Snapchat

See also: The next big thing to come along.

Introducing Katie

I first spoke to Katie when I was working on a campaign promoting degree apprenticeships. The purpose was simple: show how freaking amazing they are. I’ll do a follow-up post on this, but essentially a degree apprenticeship is when you study and work full-time, get paid and graduate without debt.

My. God.

If degree apprenticeships had been around when I was reading Heart of Darkness on the back seat of the 153 bus, I would have thrown the book out the window and written my application in blood.

Katie is a first-year Chartered Manager Degree Apprentice at Microsoft’s campus in Reading. At just 19 years old, she is already flying around the world, networking with the company’s top executives and dominating the Xbox Room during her lunch hour. Here she is (pictured front) with a couple other apprentices.

‘I was bored of a classroom environment,’ says Katie candidly, ‘I think the turning point was when we were forced to write personal statements in college. I sat there, none of us knew what we were doing but everyone was just writing. It’s like my friends were on auto-pilot.’

Research by student-focused website The Student Room shows that young people are waking up to the university alternative: 61% of prospective students are now interested in apprenticeships with 48% believing that apprenticeships do not lead to low employment, a viewed perpetuated by previous generations.

Apprentices at microsoft

Detention, detention and detention

Katie (right) laughs when she recalls her own lightbulb moment, ‘At the end of a personal statement session, a teacher came up to me and asked, “Where’s your work?” I tried to explain that I wasn’t interested in university and was exploring other options… I was given a detention. DETENTION! My first ever, for not writing a personal statement.’

Surrounded by fellow rebels, she used her time to research alternatives to university, ‘I searched apprenticeships online and found two I wanted to apply for. Microsoft and another company that took my fancy. I prepared draft applications for both.’

As the detention ended, her tutor asked again about the absence of a statement. ‘I was pretty nervous, but I shared my research and the companies that were offering these new kinds of apprenticeships.’ Katie’s gamble paid off. ‘The tutor didn’t look too put out. From that moment on, things started making a lot more sense and I felt a lot happier about the way I was heading.’

It’s absurd that a teenager, willing to be enterprising and think of career-first, would be punished. A detention for not writing a personal statement? It’s a pretty extreme case, but perhaps not too unexpected. If teachers and schools are judged on how many students they channel through UCAS, rather than meeting student aspirations, then this will continue to happen. University professionals have a responsibility to ensure that careers advisors, parents and teachers are well-informed about the options available to young people.

When I visit schools to talk about degree apprenticeships, the audience always looks like they are hearing it for the first time. The teachers included. It’s 2018! We’ve had the global financial crash and huge youth unemployment, all within the last 10 years, yet education still privileges the three-year, campus-based degree. It’s madness. Universities and apprenticeship providers must be open, honest and share the great news about work-based courses. For example, Aston’s degree apprentices actually outperform (both academically and professionally) its traditional, campus-based students. It shocked me too. Somehow, these apprentices are working full-time, doing a degree and still getting exceptionally high results. It’s worth shouting about.

Katie and her life as a degree apprentice at Microsoft

Working at Microsoft isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle. The company is consistently ranked amongst the world’s top employers across pay, development opportunities and how it values its people. ‘It’s sort of like that film The Intern that follows the life of newbies at the Googleplex.’

The campus is made up of four buildings, each containing quirky workspaces. One moment you could be sitting on swings and surrounded by grass, the next you could be working from your laptop in the Minecraft Room. Each space is designed to get the best from its people – no harsh strip lighting or 70s cubicles – everything is open, even the meeting rooms. The culture reflects this too.

This all comes, of course, with one condition – you work your ass off. Katie explains, ‘The first year of my apprenticeship is designed to give me an all-around understanding of the business. I’m working and studying full-time. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it is extremely rewarding.’

As Microsoft’s first degree apprentice, Katie has helped organise a technology conference in Washington, led on an internal communications project and ticked off (optionally, as part of a module) the infamous ‘three peaks’ challenge – all within months.

Creating super-human young professionals

‘The beauty of a degree apprenticeship is that you can immediately apply what you learn to what you do. It’s better than learning a module and using it three years later. That wasn’t going to work for me.’

Katie will graduate in 2019 with three years global work experience, a bachelor’s degree, full Chartered Manager status and no debt. ‘I guess when you put it that way, it sounds pretty cool,’ she says ‘It’s hard work though!’

Katie’s advice to 2018 students is to ‘think beyond the subject you want to study’ to the kind of future you want to have. Keep yourself open to possibilities – even if it means a detention or two.

Peregrinations of a university marketer early in the conversion journey

A phrase that always catches my attention is ‘watch this space’.

In a time where we crave constant stimulation, are saturated with the next best thing and scream at the internet when Apple (yet again) doesn’t revolutionise the mobile phone – why would we wait patiently and watch the digital equivalent of a brick wall?

‘Stop press!’, ‘spaces are limited’ or messages that start with ‘Dear applicant’ get a similar reception. They make us mentally facepalm and drain another finger-width of willpower before we’ve even opened the email titled ‘student journey.’

There’s a lot of talk around the ‘student journey’. It takes other forms too – conversion journey, lead nurture strategy, customer nudge funnel (yep) – but don’t be fooled. It’s all the same thing.

Baby steps

If your student journey consists of a series of emails, chained together with triggers that say ‘automatically after 1 week’ – congratulations. You’ve made your first tiny movement to marketing nirvana.

We’re pretty early on in our own journey at Aston. We’re investing in CRM tools and ensuring we can demonstrate ROI, learning which communications resonate with our audience and adapting content accordingly. Still, we have a way to go.

The 2016 / 17 cycle was pretty savage for universities. It forced a lot to take a hard look at their offer and fast track innovation in their CRM and general recruitment marketing.

We’ll be focusing on CRM this year too. Universities need to, because the number of students banging at the door isn’t getting any higher. It’s getting harder, much harder, to recruit (and keep the students that you do) so CRM, seems like a sensible place to put your money and resources.

I have a few takeaways if you’re looking to do the same.

Different journies depending on lead source

Your aim should always be to continue a conversation. Yes, that sounds contrived, but there is some substance to it. Promise.

For example, if you have a conversation at a fair and someone wants to receive specific information about a course – send them that. Don’t just plug them into a generic stream of comms and expect it to work conversion magic. We have to move beyond ‘keeping people warm’ to keeping people active.

Where possible, the way you capture data should anticipate multiple conversion workflows. There will be times when only a manual response is suitable, but these should be followed by a short survey. The aim being to learn more about your prospect’s preferences, so you can remarket to them more effectively later.

If this, then that

Each branch from your lead source isn’t going to be a straight line. A person who downloads and reads 10 pages of your campus magazine needs a very different follow-up communication to the person who didn’t open the attachment.

Branches also give another level of verification to your leads. If you can identify early on which leads are less likely to convert, then you can prioritise communications to key groups and make your conversion rate look a lot hotter in the process.

If your conversion journey achieves one thing, it should be the death of the blanket email. Identifying the hottest leads will also make it far more effective and cheaper to retarget through programmatic and social media advertising.

Pipelines between journies

There is probably a really technical name for this, but it escapes me. It’s when your prospect meets a condition that requires a change in communications. For example, when a lead turns into an applicant.

A personal statement email, for instance, isn’t going to be much use to your hot and eager applicant. In fact, they are likely to be sick to death of anything statement related, so it’s not the best way to start your pre-confirmation love affair.

What’s more appropriate, is starting these students on a new journey full of exam tips, content from your university’s advocates and traditional invites to your applicant visit days.

Trackable through from prospect to applicant

Speaking to colleagues in HE, I’ve noticed a fairly unsettling trend – very few are able to effectively track from advertising, through to lead source and onto confirmation and enrolment.

There are lots of stages (and people) involved in your conversion journey. Sometimes, it’s easier to work with the people who just get it, but that way you’re not going to get very far.

I could spout some general stuff about being open and transparent, inclusive to all, but that’s not going to work either. The best thing you can do is a stakeholder analysis and learn who to:

  • Keep satisfied
  • Manage closely
  • Keep informed
  • Monitor
  • Sack off?

Okay, the last one didn’t make the curriculum, but this sort of stuff is genuinely useful when it comes to identifying your allies, how your CRM will work with legacy systems and, ultimately, who’s doing all the heavy lifting.

Tweak one thing

This isn’t a ‘deliver and move on’ sort of deal. Of course, there will be key milestones, such as mapping out workflows, creating launch comms and applying a consistent design…but this is the journey that just keeps on giving.

Your suite of metrics, for example Open Rate, CTR and ‘lead to applicant; applicant to confirmation rate’ will be used to identify bottlenecks, what’s working across the journey and potential gaps for niche comms.

Put the word ‘niche’ on your CRM to-do list. As the market becomes more fragmented, our only response can be to segment, segment and segment.

Are there hotspots for you geographically which could do with their own set of communications? Are there small pockets of desirable students, which have a set of very specific needs, not answered by other universities? Can you be the go-to people for information on a particular topic?

Consider this as you review and build your journey.

Employ a content dude, like me 😀

The thing is, you can have the perfect conversion workflows, triggers and information systems set up, but it’s all going to fall flat if your comms don’t speak to your audience.

I could write a whole separate piece on this, but essentially you need someone who can tell your story and isn’t afraid to work with multiple teams in order to share it in the best way.

You need a resource capable of giving your audience attractive stuff, which sings about your USPs, but that does so in a way that is useful to your market.

The word ‘useful’ is key here. TSR recently published a piece showcasing the value of content marketing and demonstrated the impact of helpful, non-product focused content for brands to resonate and build meaningful relationships with their audience.

The conversion lead nurture journey thing – everyone is doing it

The phrase ‘student journey’ certainly still spikes my attention, but not in the same way as people intent on making me watch their space.

If you’re one of few willing to map stuff out, leap departmental walls and drown out the folk shouting from the sidelines – fair play to you.

Everyone sends out communications, few do it well. Your conversion workflows are a chance to build something lasting, that works across multiple channels and aspires beyond emails starting with ‘Dear Applicant’ and ending with click here. Aim marketing nirvana, or at least the start of the journey.

This article was originally published on The Student Room. See part 1 and part 2.

Kicking out the muse: Writing myths and how to see through them

My sweet spot in literature starts around the 50s with Jack Kerouac. Reading On the Road as a teenager was akin to a spiritual experience – the open highway, snapshot happenings and that unlimited sense of freedom that accompanies wide open spaces.

If I’d known then that about every other English student was reading the same thing – making notes in the margin, pining for adventure and getting off on the possibility of falling in love with a complete stranger – I would have chosen a better book.

I wanted to travel America, yet I never started a savings account, planned when I do it and (crucially) how I would get there. I just waited for spontaneity to bite, like a muse.

This view of spontaneity and inspiration extends into modern writing. It’s unfortunate, but what is widely accepted as best writing practice is often confused with pumped-up prose, and its younger sibling, bureaucratic speak.

For example, look no further than how councils share information about your Christmas bin collection:

“Residents in Birmingham are being reminded of this year’s Christmas and new year waste collection arrangements, as the festive season nears.

As is normally the case, the council’s crews, who work on all other Bank Holidays, will not operate on Christmas Day, Boxing Day (or any Bank Holidays when either of those two particular days are at the weekend).

This year that means there will be no collections of refuse or recycling on Monday 25 December and Tuesday 26 December.”

Do people actually talk like that? Could we have used fewer words? How about:

“There will be no rubbish or recycling collected on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.”

To understand why we default to inflated prose, we have to go back to the past; beyond Beat Fiction, through Modernism and Victorian Literature to Romanticism:

A seventeenth-century arts movement where, in literature, dudes bang on for hours about existence and suffering while looking at a hillside.

Keats, P B. Shelly and – by far the worst offender – William Wordsworth, promised that ‘filling the paper with the breathings of your heart’ was a sure road to writing success. It was innovative at the time, reacting against Rationalism and tapping into the narratives of human emotion, suffering and the self – indeed, perhaps the Romantic poetry is the earliest collection of selfies in history.

Miraculously, this self-privileging and (mildly) narcissistic form has endured well into the 21st century. Perhaps this is a testimony to the human condition – that despite the postmodernist movement, the wave of metafiction and the shift to networks rather than hierarchies – that we still enjoy one person taking on the world and painting it with their feelings.

The Romantics had a lot to say about words, so I’ve scooped it up and deconstructed it through the lens of a 21st-century copywriter.

My goal is to give you a few key takeaways and make you slightly better prepared the next time you come across the superfluous.

Wordsworth on writing with spontaneity

‘Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: It takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.’ – Wordsworth

Two things are at work here, first the perception of spontaneity or ‘eureka moments’ as the source of all great writing. Second, that said work is only possible when charged by emotion in a vacuum of ‘tranquillity.’

As a professional writer, you rarely have time to sit and smell the roses. Research, deadlines and ‘the client’, who is convinced that your use of full-stops goes against the grammar lesson they received in 1962, are always on your back.

We are suffering a tranquility deficit. Silence is a luxury reserved for the privileged few. If you need evidence of this, take your typical business class airport lounge. Oliver Burkeman writes in New Philosopher:

‘The reason that business class airport lounges feel so luxurious […] isn’t really the nicer furniture or the gourmet food; it’s that they provide the quiet to hear yourself think.’

The same goes for creative workspace – everything comes at a cost. If you want access to a high-quality creative space in Birmingham, you’re looking at £35 (+VAT) for the privilege of using the Impact Hub for 2 days a month (!!!) For reference, that’s more expensive than your typical millennial’s monthly phone contract.

My answer to tranquility and spontaneity is process and habit. It may sound contradictory, but blocking out time to write at the same time every day, switching off emails and sliding on flight mode does wonderful things for your attention, regardless if you are in a public or private space.

It’s better to think of spontaneity as a specter, channeled by control conditions. If you really are stuck for words, just start writing around the subject. Keep typing, uninterrupted for 5 minutes or so. Go back, paste the best bits and repeat until you are happy.

Similarly, you can use writing games to give your prose some lift. For this, I recommend a great book by Hazel Smith, The Writing Experience – a superb example of how creativity is done best within constraints.

Worthworth on getting started with writing

‘To begin, begin.’ – Wordsworth

This reminds me of that one person in meetings, who, when everyone is in deep discussion, raises his or her hand and says, ‘people,’ pausing for effect, ‘let’s take a step back here.’

Smug.

If getting started were this simple, we wouldn’t have entire industries and careers built around getting people to do stuff better.

Anyway, it’s not wise to just begin. Charging headlong into a blank sheet of paper will only result in a series of loosely connected ideas.

Research and preparation are key – think of it as your commercial prologue.

You need a micro-story that sets the scene, rather than, for example, a vague sense that you are targeting generation zs with an interest in entrepreneurship.

Ryan without a commercial prologue

  • Located within 20 miles of your university
  • Registered interest in entrepreneurship
  • Aged between 16 – 18
  • Planning to study this academic year
  • Targeting affluent neighborhoods

Ryan with a commercial prologue

Ryan lives in Edgbaston, Birmingham. His mother and father work long hours in city centre jobs and he is often greeted by silence when he returns home from college. Poor Ryan!

This doesn’t bother him, as such, but it does give him more space to think about the future than other teenagers his age. Most of his friends have siblings.

It’s not firm yet, just some sketchy thoughts, but Ryan really likes the idea of starting his own business. Unfortunately, leafy Edgbaston isn’t the greatest hive of entrepreneurial activity and Ryan’s parents can’t relate either. They have only ever worked for brands, rather than themselves. That’s, apparently, where the money is.

Ryan’s been to a few UCAS events and heard from local universities at his college, but none of them have majored in entrepreneurial studies. A lot of them speak of rankings, some even placement years and apprenticeships, but again, it’s not what our hero is looking for.

He’s signed up to a few university websites, including the Student Room, Whatuni etc…but he often receives more generic stuff around business studies. He needs a guide that helps both him and his parents through this maze of web pages, open days and his niche interest in entrepreneurship. He and his parents need reassurance that this is the right decision.

Don’t you feel you know Ryan a little better now?

We have a sense of his pain points; him liking the idea of starting his own business, but not sure where to begin; his biggest stakeholders – his parents – not fully understanding his choice and pushing him down a more traditional, familiar, route; his choice being non-typical and not being aptly cover by university marketing teams… We can now further shape ideas that will resonate with his niche. A few ways to channel our writing might be:

  1. (Targeting Ryan) The ultimate guide to starting out as an entrepreneur
  2. (Targeting Ryan) How these entrepreneurial teens turned a rough idea into a career
  3. (Targeting parents) Is university the answer? How young entrepreneurs are making their own careers

All of these would fit the bill. Once decided on a particular route, it’s time to go deeper.

For example, if we choose 1, we can use tools like buzzsumo to see what’s topics are trending and identify gaps in our own content. We don’t want to write something that’s already had its day, however, it’s 2018 and there are very few topics that have not been covered in great detail. The only answer is to go niche. It’s better to write something that will be super-hot with two hundred people than lukewarm with ten thousand.

Think of research as something that shines a light in the right direction. Well-produced content speaks to a niche, provides answers and doesn’t broadcast your USPs on all frequencies.

‘A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.’ – Shelley

Remember, brand writers that have nothing to say fall back on listing USPs. Nobody cares about your messages. If your content is not aimed at your customer, entertaining and/or useful then who is it for?

Shelley on the power of poetry and words alone

‘Poetry is a sword of lightning, ever unsheathed, which consumes the scabbard that would contain it.’ – Shelley

Have you ever been told that ‘nobody reads anything anymore’?

Indeed, the UK publishing industry being up 7% on 2016 (to £4.8 billion) is only because consumers are decking out their shelves with Penguin Hardcover Classics.

Snapchat, the leading social platform for 18-24 year olds, is frequently hiring multilingual copy editors just for kicks.

Another way to interpret the phrase ‘nobody reads any more’ is that the person uttering it thinks this to be the case.

As a recovering poet, I’d love to believe that my words alone would be enough for the win, but they aren’t. They are competing in an image-satiated, quick-hit culture where time is eternally at the essence. Commercial writers need an appreciation of image, sound, and composition, as well as words.

We need to broaden our understanding of ‘copy’ to words working in tandem with other media. For an example, look at Manchester University’s video, We Belong.

Would the same script have been as impactful with just a poet speaking in a darkened room? Would the piece have been as striking if the actors were reciting a verse out of a greeting card?

Words don’t consume all other media, they are a vital part of it and create the overall experience. There are only 10 words in this Nike ad, but without them we would just have a bunch of people running.

Words can go even further if we think about when and where they are delivered. Immediately, I think about the below advert that attacks Donald Trump, shared in the great copywriting book Read Me, by Roger Horberry & Gyles Lingwood.

At first glance, it doesn’t appear that impressive – someone swapping around Donald’s name for mild amusement. We can all do that, can’t we? But then, there’s targeting…

This ad was placed in the programme of the Global Leadership Forum, an international conference at which Donald Trump was the keynote speaker.

Oh, snap!

Major embarrassment in front of some very influential and powerful people, thanks to the clever use of channels and timing.

Words, words, words

I’m actually a fan of some Romanticism. John Milton’s Paradise Lost is an exceptional example of how the form was used to reimagine older texts and established beliefs. If you don’t find the descriptions of Chaos, Satan’s rebellion and Earth being held in celestial chains fascinating, I don’t know what will do it for you.

Yet, the writing techniques and beliefs of Shelly and Wordsworth endure over Milton. It’s probably a lot to do with classic English Literature teaching and popular fiction, those immortal Romantic souls being pressed and preserved in the folds of a Penguin Classic.

Like conquering a bad thought, the first step is to acknowledge its presence. There is a mythology around Romantic authors that seeps into modern writing. Look closer. Has that sentence been said before? Do I need to think across media to make the most impact? How can I be more proactive in idea generation, rather than waiting for inspiration to bite?

Writing has come a long way since its elevated status amongst the muses and the Fountain of Hippocrene. It’s now down and dirty with the people; billboards, bus backs and the video in your personal timeline. We’re all publishers now.

So, erase secondary school English from your mind and blot out the lonely cloud. It’s time to write for the time-starved, attention deprived and media-saturated generation. How are you going to start the conversation?