HRW Communications

{We create great content}

HRW Communications is a creative marketing firm that brings together the best of the industry's freelancers. Together, we combine effective copy and beautiful design to create innovative, inspiring campaigns. We've worked with corporations, ad agencies, small businesses, and nonprofits.

And we can't wait to work with you.

 

Writer's Tip: Forget About Ellipses

Folks, punctuation is great. I’m a huge fan of it. I’m a passionate defender of the Oxford comma, and I love a good semicolon, when it’s used properly (although it almost never is).

But you know what punctuation mark I’ve been seeing more and more of lately?

The ellipsis.

And I’m here to tell you to forget that ellipses exist.

For those of you who aren’t grammar snobs, an ellipsis is a series of periods—usually three in a row—that signals a pause in the content. It can also be used to express doubt.

For example!

“This content is great…but I’d like to see some revisions on Monday.”

Or!

“…I’m not sure I like the placement of those ellipses.”

Or!

“This isn’t quite what I asked for…”

Where have I been noticing these ellipses, you may ask?

Photo by Laurent Renault/Hemera / Getty Images

Photo by Laurent Renault/Hemera / Getty Images

All over my correspondence. Professional emails that are littered with ellipses. Across the digital advertising universe—in Google search and display ads, in pop-ups, in email newsletters.

Now that I’ve seen more ellipses than my poor eyes can handle, I’m here to give you some writerly advice.

For the love of all things grammatically correct—stop using ellipses in your content.

I beg of you.

Ellipses have a hallowed place in fiction. You’ll find them scattered ever so sparingly in various novels, usually in character dialogue. Totally appropriate, as long as they aren’t overused.

Ellipses also have a place in casual, digital conversation. Texting or Gchatting with a friend who’s just asked you a question to which you have no idea how to respond?

Easy!

However.

Ellipses really don’t have a place in marketing or otherwise professional content. They’re too vague, too colloquial, and all around, fairly unprofessional. Don’t sprinkle them throughout your emails to colleagues or contractors. Don’t drop them ever so casually into your Google search and display ad copies. Don’t throw them around in your pop-up ads, in your remarketing text, or in your monthly business newsletters.

When in doubt, ask yourself this simple, foolproof question.

“Is what I’m writing work-related?”

If the answer is yes, don’t string a series of periods together, no matter how tempted you may be. Back away from the ellipses, and nobody gets hurt.

Am I being a little dramatic here? Absolutely. Should ellipses really be so strictly forbidden? Not necessarily. I’m sure a few exceptions could be rounded up, in which they’re totally acceptable to use.

But today, we’re not talking about exceptions.

We’re talking about the rule.

And the rule is—forget that ellipses exist. Don’t use them in your marketing copy. Stop using them if you’re currently in the habit. Learn to hate them with the same fiery passion usually reserved for the absence of the Oxford comma.

Or, I suppose, for the presence of the Oxford comma, if you’re on that side of this war.

So! Put those ellipses away. Save them for the Great American Novel you’re working on. They’ll fit right into those uber-dramatic dialogue scenes, filled with pensive pauses and dubious arguments.

What are your punctuation pet peeves? Have you used the ellipses lately in your own work? Are you prepared to defend them to the death, or do you want to burn them on a punitive, punctuation pyre? (Alliteration for the win.)

Blow it up in the comments!

 

How to End 2014 Like a Boss

Folks, 2014 is coming to a close.

And by that I mean, it’s over. C’est fini! Peace out, 2014. You were a pretty sweet year.

So, in the final 12 hours of this latest 365-day tour around the sun, how can you close out like the boss that you are? Easy. Pay attention.

1.)    Take stock of what you accomplished this year.

My super entrepreneurial sister—lady owns three businesses, WHAT UP—posted an awesome reflection exercise on her Facebook page this week, and I used it to look back on my year.

And you know what? I accomplished a shit ton in 2014. Like, really a lot.

There were also a bunch of things that fell by the wayside for me this year, and it was super useful to take a moment and consider how I can rectify that in the next 12 months.

So! Sit down, and make a list. What are the top 10 accomplishments and disappointments you had in 2014? What were your 3 biggest game changers? What 3 things did you have every intention of accomplishing, but just didn’t get around to? And—perhaps most importantly—what are the three things you invested the most time in?

After you’ve made your list, go high-five someone. You did a lot this year. You rock.

And then, let those accomplishments and disappointments inform what you’ll do in 2015. What do you want to do differently this year? Set some goals for yourself in the New Year, and you’re well on your way to ending 2014 with total boss status.

2.)    Get all your commas and decimal points lined up.

This is less exciting and inspirational than annual reflections and goal-setting, but it’s got to be done.

Get all your revenues and expenditures documented and lined up. I realize you don’t REALLY need to get this done until April, but there’s no reason why you can’t do it now. And think about all the stress you’ll save in the coming months!

Seriously, get those tax documents ready for the accountant now. You’ll start 2015 fresh-faced and glowing.

3.)    Have a strategy in place for 2015.

PLAN. IT. OUT.

Did you hear me?

Make a plan, people.

I can’t tell you how many people I meet who have no strategy for the year until halfway through Q1. That’s months of lost time that could have been spent accomplishing goals, when instead it was wasted on planning that should have happened long ago.

Plan for next year, right now. Then, when 2015 arrives (T-minus 12 hours here, people), you’ll be prepared to hit the ground running.

4.)    Be ready to actually do it.

Planning only works if you actually carry out the plan. So make sure you’re prepared to do that.

Don’t be one of the many, many people who get analysis paralysis—making plans on plans on plans, and never doing anything about them.

Planning to do a rebrand this year? Make sure you have leads on an agency or creative freelancers who can get the job done. Want to score more clients in 2015? Awesome! Make sure you get on the phone, send out mailers, or put out an email blast this January. Whatever your strategy is for the New Year, make sure you roll up your sleeves, and get it done.

So, there you have it! That’s how I’ll be wrapping up this year—and I’m pretty excited about it. How are you ending 2014 like a boss?

How a Brand Can Change the World

This week, Elle Magazine made news for launching a campaign to rebrand feminism. The campaign is scheduled to appear in the glossy's November issue, complete with an 8-page feature. So far, a few ads have hit the web, along with the names of the campaign's creators. ellefem2

And already, the campaign has been wildly successful, even though it hasn't officially launched yet.

Why? For starters, "rebranding" feminism is pretty controversial. The dreaded F-word will almost always get people chattering--not to mention, the concept of turning a political ideology into a commodified brand is somewhat troubling. After all, how is feminism supposed to challenge and dismantle the patriarchy if it's emblazoned with corporate logos?

That's a great question. Let's explore it, shall we?

For starters, let's not forget that this particular attempt at rebranding feminism isn't really about sparking a revolution. It's about selling more copies of Elle Magazine. Elle paid three top ad agencies a bunch of money to create this campaign, and they expect to get a solid return on their investment.

And they will! All the chatter about this campaign, a full month before it hits newsstands, will generate a ton of sales. Feminists will purchase to support the noble political goal, and anti-feminists will buy to balk at the blasphemy of it all. Either way, November should be a BIG month for Elle.

And that effect will last beyond next month. With this campaign, Elle is making a name for itself as the feminist women's glossy--a reputation that will undoubtedly boost sales for months, or years, to come.

That said, let's talk about how feminism is supposed to survive corporatization.

elle flowchart

The thing is, feminism is already a brand. How?

Every idea that wants to cultivate a vast following is a brand. Do you want people to identify as Little Monsters? Smilers? Feminists? Translation: you want to create a brand that people can get behind.

A brand doesn't have to be a corporate logo--although that's what most people think of when they hear the B-word. A brand is just a concept or identity that people recognize instantly and want to participate in, subscribe to, and talk about.

Don't believe me? Think of Kleenex. Are you picturing a logo? Probably not. More likely, you're picturing a box of tissues on your nightstand, ready to comfort you when you've got a nasty cold or a broken heart. Kleenex isn't just associated with tissues--it's associated with the comfort of home. That's a powerful concept, and it's paid off. When was the last time you asked someone to pass you the tissues? Probably never. You asked for the Kleenex instead.

kleenex_cool_touch_02

Still don't believe me? Let's look at something a bit less Fortune 500. Remember Obama's 2008 presidential campaign? He wasn't selling anything but a vision of the future. He didn't have a logo or a product--just hope. He sold an idea and an identity, and he did it extremely well. It's not surprising that he won by a landslide.

obama_change_x_framed__poster

So what are we talking about when we say we're rebranding feminism? We're not talking about selling it or corporatizing it, or turning into a sad little sponsor for next year's Miss America pageant. (Although all of these things might happen as a result, unfortunately.)

What we're talking about is transforming feminism into something that people don't associate with awful stereotypes like a hairy-legged, man-hating shrew. We're talking about transforming feminism into a concept that's current, sexy, and hopeful. Something that makes people picture a world where women are treated with respect, are paid equally, and have control over their bodies. That's a pretty awesome concept, am I right? Tons of people can hop on that bandwagon.

UPTOWN_beyonce

Unfortunately, that's a tall order. Tons of problems accompany mass appeal. It's almost certain that, in the process of rebranding feminism, it will be presented as hopelessly white, upper-middle class, straight, and normatively feminine. That's a major issue, because feminism is for all people who aren't chauvinist pigs. That includes men, women of color, queer women, masculine-presenting women, poor women, disabled women--the list can go on and on.

These are the people that need feminism the most, and they're the least likely to be represented in a big budget ad campaign. That liability has already reared its ugly head--all of the people who worked on Elle's campaign are white, upper-middle class, straight, normatively feminine women. And since those are the same women who buy Elle Magazine, all of the ads are clearly directed at them.

That's a major problem, and if you want to hear more about why, check out my latest blog post for Femmolitical.

But it's important to note that these problems don't arise from the rebranding itself. After all, that's just the transformation of a lackluster concept or idea into something that inspires people. The rebranding isn't the problem, but the sexist nature of the ad industry, the pretty anti-feminist realities of women's magazines like Elle, and the limitations of socially unaware (or ineffective) copywriters and designers are.

sexist-bk

So, how do you go about branding an idea in a way that has mass appeal, is highly effective, and doesn't plunge into the pitfalls of a sexist, racist, socially unconscionable ad industry?

Sign up for my free e-newsletter, and you'll find out.

But in the meantime, remember that "brand" isn't a dirty word. It's just a big idea that gets people really excited. And that can be an awesome, amazing thing, am I right? So let's use our branding efforts for the greater good.

You can make money and change the world, all at the same time.

How to Write Winning Copy (And Why Maybe You Shouldn't Try)

Folks, this has been a busy month, hence my lack of recent blog posts. But this is a new week! And we're going to start it off right. So let's delve into a question I've been asked a lot lately. As a business owner, a non-profit professional, or even a burgeoning freelance writer, how does one write effective copy? How can you communicate your very important information effectively? How can you convert text into sales or donations?

The answer to these questions is surprisingly simple. It's also surprisingly tough.

How can you write winning copy? Communicate clearly? Convert effectively?

Write simply. I mean that literally.

Use short, simple sentences. Avoid run-on sentences, lots of clauses, and too much description. You're not writing a novel. You're writing a sales letter. Or an advertorial. Or whatever it is that you're writing. You want your language to be clear, concise, and conversational. It should be easy to understand. It shouldn't be fancy.

This might be a shock. The simpler your copy it is, the more ordinary, bland, and boring it is too, right? It won't stand out from the crowd this way. No one will notice or remember it, right?

Wrong.

The average person is bombarded with a completely insane amount of information everyday. It's overwhelming. As a result, the information that successfully plants itself in a person's mind has to be easy to digest and understand. The average person isn't going to take the time to read your lengthy, rambling copy, no matter how creative it is. It's just too much work. So, if you want your copy to be effective, keep it simple.

Now, that's an easy enough answer, right? How hard can it be to write simply? Actually, it's pretty hard. At least for the vast majority of people.

The fact of the matter is, most folks aren't writers. They're doers. They don't have the time or the inclination to sit down and write about all the great work they've been doing. Instead, they'd rather just get down to business. That's great--these people are a multifaceted, multi-talented bunch. I admire the hell out of them.

But when they try to write their own copy?

Not so much.

It's fairly easy to spot copy that's not written by a professional writer. Troll around the Internet a bit yourself, and you'll see it right away. Some websites, blogs, etc. are written in such a way that you want to keep reading, you remember the information, and at the end, you're filled with confidence. You know that this is the real thing. You might even want to pull out your wallet, depending on the goal of the copy in front of you.

But the sites that aren't written by pros? At best, they're boring or unclear. At worst, they sound like pure spam. Either way, you're not filled with much confidence after reading--if you got through it at all. These aren't the sites that inspire you to fork over some cash. Instead, they're the ones that get your mind worrying about identity theft.

This holds true for print media as well. An unprofessional sales letter is an ineffective sales letter. Now apply that rule to catalogs, brochures, white papers, e-Books, ads, and whatever other written materials you need to grow your business, and you'll quickly realize how important professional level writing is for your livelihood.

Now, this isn't to say that all business owners are incapable of writing their own copy. Some are. I can think of a handful of these people right now--the folks who are skilled writers in addition to being shrewd politicians, entrepreneurs, or fundraisers.

If you're one of these people, stop reading this blog post right now. You've got everything under control.

As for the rest of you? Maybe pass your writing jobs along to someone else. Because the task of writing simply, isn't so simple.

How to Write a Winning Grant Proposal

If you're working in the non-profit sector, you know how important grant proposals are. When all or most of your revenue is coming from voluntary donations, you need to secure all the gifts you can. And securing a sizable grant can be like a gift from the heavens. Not only does it come from a single donor--meaning fewer people for you to track down for thank you's and future gift solicitations--but many times, it's also large enough to bankroll a substantial chunk of your budget.

For many non-profits, grants are an indispensable source of income. But they don't just fall from the sky, hand delivered by the grant gods. Nope--on the contrary, securing a grant can be almost as much work as implementing the programs that money would pay for.

So what to do? Here are a few suggestions for locking down some much deserved grant money for your organization.

1) Designate a specific person or team to handle the task of proposal writing.

Have a fabulous writer on staff? Great. Ask her if she'd be willing to put her skills to good use and churn out a killer proposal. When you give a large task like this to one person, it tends to get done faster and better. The pressure of completing such an important project will light a fire under her, so to speak, and motivate her to get to work.

Plus, working independently or with a small team will give her the space to focus and make sure that the proposal with her name on it is top-notch.

2) Not so lucky to have a talented writer on staff? Hire a freelancer. Professional grant writers know what big donors want to hear, and they'll create a proposal for you that will be very likely to get accepted. Not to mention, outsourcing a huge project like proposal writing frees up your staff to focus on their jobs, whether that involves donor relations or program implementation.

3) Think you don't have the budget for a freelancer? Think again. Outsourcing proposal writing increases in-house productivity--since your staff won't be caught up in an extra, time consuming task--and that saves you money. Not to mention, if a professional writer will produce a higher quality proposal for you, why wouldn't you hire her? Turning in a sub-par proposal that was written in-house is more likely to get rejected than a beautifully crafted, outsourced proposal. And you want that proposal to get accepted, don't you?

4) No matter who writes your proposal, make sure that your organization has clearly hammered out the nuts and bolts of the project you're proposing to fund with that grant money. How is it different from the programs you already have? How will it benefit your constituents? Will it be measurably profitable in the long run, and if so, how? Donors want to feel like they're making a smart investment by granting your funds, and ill-conceived, unorganized program plans don't inspire confidence. Be crystal clear about what you're doing and why.

5) Don't gloss over the budget details. How much money will you need for each piece of the program? What expenses are involved? How much overhead will be incurred? More importantly, how much of that budget will be covered by the grant itself? Will any of it be funded by moneys your organization already has? Be as clear and specific as possible. Leave no stone unturned. You're asking someone else for money, after all. They need to judge whether you'll be using it wisely.

6) Use your proposal to tell a story. Do you know how many of these come in every application cycle? A lot. You need your proposal to stand out, and the best way to do that is to make it interesting. Lots of grant proposals are dry as dust--boring, forgettable, and uninspiring. Who wants to fund a program that's putting them to sleep? Find the emotional pull of your program, build a narrative, and draw your reader in. Get your donor emotionally invested in your cause. If you can do that, it'll be hard for her to turn you down.

Still confused about how to make your grant proposal sparkle? Sign up for my monthly newsletter to get tips and hints about proposal writing and much more. Or, leave a comment below! Either way, there's no better way to learn more about writing than joining an online writer's community. Keep this conversation going!

4 Reasons to Outsource This Year's Annual Report

If you work at a publicly traded company, you know all about the world of annual reports. Writing them is time consuming, difficult, and quite often, overwhelming. Even if you work at a non-profit, where annual reports aren't legally required, you've probably had a taste of this daunting task. Because annual reports are a great asset for any organization, many choose to produce them, despite the lack of legal pressure. They are a great way to increase an organization's visibility and donor base--two crucial opportunities for any non-profit.

But regardless of whether you work at Goldman Sachs or Planned Parenthood, writing your annual report in-house can be costly. In many cases, outsourcing this task to a freelancer is far more profitable. Why? Here are four good reasons.

 

time

1) Writing an annual report takes time. A lot of time. If you're producing yours in-house, that means you're diverting employee hours away from what they're best at doing--their jobs. When workers are bogged down with the task of writing an annual report, they have less time to perform client service or support functions, and that doesn't bode well for your bottom line. When you hire a freelancer to write your annual report, you're freeing up your employees to do what's most important--keep your business running smoothly. And that's the kind of investment that pays for itself.

 

Lots-of-Papers

2) Annual reports are not easy to put together. You'll need a writer who has the ability to synthesize massive amounts of information into a single document. Not to mention, they've got to do it with style. No annual report will win an award if it's dry, boring, poorly organized, or excessively wordy.

When there's so much information to include, though, these are all traps that are easy to fall into. And if you're producing your annual report in-house, it's quite likely that it will land in one or more of these pitfalls. An employee who's overwhelmed with the task of report writing, in addition to the daily responsibilities of her position, can easily get bogged down by the sheer volume of information she'll need to process and distill. And make no mistake--that's going to show up in her writing.

When you outsource your annual report to a quality freelance writer, you'll wind up with a finished product that's well organized, interesting, and concise. Why? Any freelance writer worth her salt is used to processing tons of information and distilling it down into a single document. That's a major part of the job. Why else? She's not bogged down with other details. Writing your annual report isn't interfering with a freelancer's ability to do her job. It is her job.

 

office-politic-1

3) Everyone at a company wants to shine in the annual report. And they all deserve to--you've done a fantastic job this year! But how is an in-house employee supposed to negotiate these office politics in her writing? That's a tough question, and one she's likely to stress about. But if you hire a freelance writer, the issue of office politics solves itself. As an outsider with no personal stake in the company, a freelancer will produce a report that's far more accurate and free of bias than an in-house employee. Objectivity is an important piece in an annual report's puzzle--and freelance writers are best equipped to achieve it.

 

happy-employees-shutterstock-537x358

4) If you've ever tried to write an annual report, you might have asked yourself, "How can I make this boring data interesting?" It's true--sometimes the information that goes into an annual report is dryer than dust. But when you hire a good freelancer to write your annual report, it can be like a rainstorm in the desert. Professional writers are really professional story tellers, and they know how to turn your report into a compelling tale. Now that's the kind of report that wins awards.

 

So what are you waiting for? Hire a freelancer to write your annual report this year. You--and your employees--will be glad you did.

 

3 Reasons To Implement a Direct Mail Campaign Today

When I work with small business owners, I often hear that direct mail marketing is a lost cause. "It's too expensive," Royce told me, the owner of a small investment advisory company in Central New Jersey. A one-man show, the cost of printing and postage was daunting to him. And besides, he had sent out a direct mail campaign five years ago, and it wasn't too successful. He'd been put off by the whole experience.

This isn't the first time I've heard such protests. Direct mail campaigns can seem overwhelming, old-fashioned, and over-priced. There are a number of hurdles to jump, and each of them has a set of old refrains, telling you to stay away.

stay-away1

First you have to create something to stuff those envelopes with--and what on Earth should that be? A letter? A postcard? Some graphics? How long should they be? Should they be printed in color, or black and white? Many business owners have no idea where to start.

And then, once you get past the trying task of content creation, you've got to pay for printing and postage. In the age of the Internet, electronic marketing, and email campaigns, many are deeming these costs outdated and unnecessary. Plus, won't most recipients just toss those envelopes into the recycling bin, unopened and unread?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

These are all understandable concerns. But ultimately, the reality of direct mail marketing is very different. Here are 3 reasons why you should get over your fear of direct mail marketing, and get to work on implementing a campaign today.

costeffective

1) Compared to other strategies, direct mail is a surprisingly cost-effective way to market your business. While the lump sums you'll pay for stamps and printing might seem daunting, you'll be spreading your marketing efforts out to a substantial number of people. That means you're actually spending very little per prospective client, and each prospect you convert will result in a handsome return on investment.

target_market

2) Direct mail marketing allows you to target a very specific group of people--ones who you think are likely to need your services--and that ultimately translates into more sales for your business. Create a list of people or businesses you've worked with before. From there, do a little research, and expand your list to include people or businesses who are in the same industry or demographic as your previous clients. Now, I'll bet you have a pretty substantial list of highly targeted prospects. When you send your direct mail campaign to the folks on this list, you aren't wasting postage stamps on random people who may or may not have any interest in your work. Rather, you're sending relevant information to people who value it, and they're quite likely to not only open your envelope--but also to pick up the phone and give you a sale.

woman-opening-mail-350x263

3) Direct mail marketing is highly effective--and surprisingly so, for all the folks who throw impersonal envelopes away without a second thought. Depending on your industry, direct mail is often more effective than e-marketing, and that means it's a strategy you can't afford to dismiss. There are a few reasons for this--people delete emails quicker than they throw away envelopes, and physical mail creates a heightened emotional response to your product, just to name a couple. The bottom line? The Internet has not rendered direct mail campaigns obsolete. Not by a long shot.

happy

But all this isn't to say that your direct mail campaign will be a guaranteed hit. Mailing to targeted prospects will get your recipients to open the envelope, but if the copy inside is weak, confusing, or poorly crafted, your hard work will still end up in the trash. That was where Royce from Central New Jersey went wrong. Investment advising is his business--not writing--and it showed. Had he hired a professional copywriter to handle his content creation, I'm sure his direct mail campaign would have been far more successful--and maybe today, he wouldn't be so reluctant to try the strategy again.

So what are you waiting for? There's nothing to be afraid of--only money to be made. Get started on your direct mail campaign today!