The Trouble With Words

I re-read this ‘book’ by John Simmons after discovering it in an old box full of heavy tomes skimmed through during my final stint of academia.  The far too many years that have since passed may have dulled the brain, for I never remembered this pamphlet.  I certainly hope I never paid the tenner that the back cover claims was its ticket price.

It’s not that a rubbish read follows.  More like it’s a total rip-off.  What you got for your cash was effectively a ten-slide business presentation with accompanying hand-out notes.  Not value for money at all.  And several pages in the style of Powerpoint might have seemed clever back then in the early-90s, but today?  Erh, no.

Still, in the time it takes to boil an egg, (re-?)read it I did, and was thankful for 3 useful pointers.  The author seems to have slithered up to dizzying heights in the dark arts of copywriting and thanks in particular a chap called Ogilvy. 

Do The Numbers

Entertainingly for us, Ogilvy made his name first as a door-to-door rep.  I no longer have the pages in front of me, so from memory the odd word may be lost, but the intro of his 12-page exhortation to sell-sell-sell a particular cooker back in the day (imagine if I’d have said ‘stove’ hehehe) does put into beautiful context how you can rally troops (or indeed yourself) to get out there and find the ‘yeses’:

‘There are 12m households in the UK.  1m of them have cars.  Only 10k have Aga cookers.  Every home that can afford a car cannot afford not to have an Aga cooker.’

A quality call to arms indeed.  As soon as I read it I thought of the products each of my prospects must also have and conjured up metrics in similar veins.

Humanise Business Impacts

This was a neat take.  How often do you find yourself writing stuff that if you think about, sounds like it’s come from a technical manual?  Making the process appear ‘human’ is a winner.  The example he uses is how Bush beat Dukakis to the 88 American Presidency.  Dukakis wanted a “decent, compassionate America” whereas Bush talked of a “kinder, gentler America”.

Say It Out Loud

When last I bit my lip having to work for someone else, I remember being asked by my charges how I wrote such good sales letters.  Basking in the glow of recognition and putting such praise down solely to merit rather than ingratiation (of course!) I explained that I often read my prose out loud to see if it makes sense.  This hint wasn’t one I’d made up for myself mind you.  I got it from a mailshot writing seminar.  Simmons re-iterates this, and it’s a belter of a policy.  It’ll ensure you never write gobbledegook again.

So, the problem with this publication is not that the 3 points I took away were only average, simply that for a tenner these days you expect hundreds of gems, not just the odd couple you get from a make-weight presentation at the end of Sales Conference day whilst shuffling expectantly in your seat before the bar opens 🙂

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