Bluetooth keeps on keeping on

I wrote about Bluetooth a couple of years ago, and how it has become the dominant wireless technology in many applications. It’s been fascinating following its development over the last twenty years or so.

The excuse for mentioning it today is a new version of the standard that’s just been announced, LE Audio, which aims to improve features for audio transmission and sharing, and to deliver better quality sound while using less power.

My first reaction to this announcement was to think that this is too much complexity, and too many options, for consumers to think about. Now, I see this announcement is targeted at OEMs and manufacturers – consumers will only need to think about ‘Bluetooth’ as one thing, and it will just work better. It’s like Wi-Fi: almost everybody ignores all the variants and options, as long as it works reliably and efficiently.

I’m still not sure if Bluetooth is treading the right path between adding too many options and features, and staying simple enough. But its tremendous success, so far, suggests that the people behind it really know what they’re doing.

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Being boring

As copywriters, we spend our working lives toiling to be clearer, to be snappier, and to be more engaging. But sometimes the opposite is needed, and we have to write copy that’s as dull as ditch water – and possibly as unclear.

It’s not something I have to do often, but occasionally it’s required. For example, if you need to include lots of terms and conditions in a brochure, you probably don’t want them to distract readers away from your key messages. Design and typography can help, but sometimes just making the words unappealing can mean they don’t jump out at your audience on their first look.

You can see this happening in politics all the time, where answers to tough questions are deliberately unclear, long-winded and tedious. Particularly on radio or TV, the interviewer will be so desperate to keep their audience interested, they won’t follow up and demand clarification, but will move on to another question.

I’m not suggesting marketing copywriters use that kind of tactic, but it’s certainly interesting to observe how others do it.

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What sports radio can teach us about copywriting

Sports commentating isn’t the most obvious source of inspiration for copywriters like me, but it can provide some valuable lessons when we sit down at the keyboard and start typing.

Specifically, when you listen to a football match or other sport on the radio, the commentator has to paint a picture with words, if you can pardon the cliché, so their listeners know what’s going on.

In a similar way, if you’re writing words to describe something, and you haven’t got any images to help, then you need your reader to be confident they can visualize what’s being written about.

I always used to wonder why radio commentators tell us which team is playing left to right and vice versa – surely it depends which side of the pitch you’re looking from? I now think this is just a subtle tactic to help us form a mental picture of the game.

Similarly, try including more concrete, tangible descriptions in your copywriting, even if they’re not strictly needed. If your readers can easily ‘see’ what you’re describing, they’ll read further and pay more attention. I tried to do this in my first sentence above – when I mention sitting down and typing. Did it work?

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Being kind

Whatever your personal views, I think you’d agree that politics in the UK (and the USA) is going through a tricky phase. There is a higher degree of confrontation, argument and abuse than I remember ever seeing.

As a result, there are various leading political figures calling for calm, and for a more respectful, kinder approach.

I think it’s important we remember these same values in our day-to-day business dealings. In the 25+ years I’ve been working in writing and marketing, I’ve been lucky – I’ve very rarely faced outright hostility from other people. I’ve been shouted and sworn at a few times, but to be honest they were probably deserved.

My concern is that the confrontational climate of today’s politics will spill over into other areas of our lives. Instead, we all have a responsibility to be polite and respectful, to argue our points forcefully but based on evidence not prejudice, and to give other people the benefit of the doubt without judging.

In short, to be kind whenever we can.

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Working to music

I spend much of my time working from home, and one of the big benefits is that I can listen to music of my choice, all day long. And since Spotify has come on the scene, this means I’ve got access to an incredible library of recordings, that can keep me going when my energy levels sag.

If you’re like me, you’ll have ‘go to’ albums, songs or playlists, that you know will give you the kick to get something started. In contrast, there’s music that’s calming and helps with concentration – for me, instrumental film soundtracks often fill this niche.

I’m intrigued as to whether what I actually write depends on the music I was listening to at the time. I’ve not done any scientific research into this, but I suspect that the choice of vocabulary must be influenced by the songs I had playing, at least to a small extent.

And by the way, this blog was written to the accompaniment of Thomas Dolby, The Golden Age of Wireless. Could you tell?

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Structured procrastination

Today, I stumbled across a fantastic concept that’s new to me, although has been around since the 90s: ‘structured procrastination’. Invented by John Perry, a professor of philosophy at Stanford, it is based on the idea that procrastinators aren’t actually doing nothing while they avoid their urgent or important work. Instead, they’re filling the time with other tasks – and often can be hugely productive.

To me, this is both an appealing theory, and one that seems to be true. If this is indeed the case, I don’t need to feel bad when I tidy my office rather than work on that rather dull press release, or indeed write this blog instead of finishing off a client project. It’s a win-win.

Clearly other people feel the same – in 2011, Perry won a well-deserved IgNobel Prize for this theory.


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Getting things done

I realise I’ve been blogging here now for more than seven years, and somehow, I’ve omitted to mention the self-help or business book which has had the biggest impact on me.

It’s an obvious choice, but ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen is a classic.

The author has developed it into a whole industry nowadays, with training, stationery, and an online version. But the original book stands up well, and is well worth reading. It’s genuinely improved my productivity and reduced my workplace stress, and I use its methods every day.

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Research or procrastination?

When you’re writing, how much time do you spend actually writing?

I’ve been writing a series of blogs for a client recently. These are all on technology areas with which I’m familiar, but I need to do a fair bit of research to get my facts straight.

My inclination is to consider this research as something to get out of the way fairly quickly, so I can get on with the ‘real work’ of writing. But I’ve realised that spending more time on the research is time invested wisely.

If I really read around a subject, and understand a lot of context, I find the blog or article almost writes itself. When I actually start typing, I’ll have a clear idea of what I’m going to say, and can sometimes more or less write the whole piece without consulting my notes.

Lesson learned: spending more time on research isn’t necessarily procrastination.

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SEO: URLs really work

This blog has included several posts about the Qwerkywriter, a retro Bluetooth keyboard. In particular, I compared it to another keyboard, the Penna, last year.

Well, guess what? Doing a bit more Googling today, my little blog post comes out as the top search result for the two names, Penna and Qwerkywriter. How bizarre is that?

Much though I would like to say that’s all down to my brilliant writing, I can only think this result is because my blog page’s URL includes the words ‘penna’ and ‘qwerkywriter’.

Lesson learned: choosing the right URL really matters.

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Pricing your copywriting services

I read a really informative post recently by a copywriter called Megan Rose, all about how to price your services as a freelance copywriter. It’s well worth a read, and has a long list of useful links at the end.

It’s a tricky subject, and I think many of us writers are a little embarrassed to bring it up with clients, but getting your price right is essential.

Going back to marketing theory, you can price your work based on its perceived value to the client, or based on your ‘costs’ (which means time for freelance writers), or you can benchmark against others (comparison pricing). There’s also pricing by the word.

The consensus of other contributors to Megan’s blog seems to be: don’t under-value yourself, be flexible, and do your research to find out what the going rates are, when possible. Then get the price (and any other conditions) in writing, either a signed contract or failing that at least an email.

For me, I find quoting a fixed price for each job gives the best results both for the client and for myself – they can see what they’re going to have to pay up-front, and I can quote a fair price (which is usually based on my estimate of how long the job will take – or might be on a per-word basis). If we can’t agree on a price, we know before any work is done or time wasted.

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