Hello, we’re The Writer, the world’s biggest language consultancy.
We’re looking for people who get nerdy about words to come to our two-day Word Experience (in London) on Thursday 12th and Friday 13th April 2018.
You might be a student, or someone who's always been keen on the idea of a career in writing, but isn't sure how.
If you like what you read, be sure to send us your application by Friday 23rd March. (You’ll see how to get in touch a bit further down.)
What’s ‘Word Experience’?
We get a lot of requests from people wanting to come on work experience. But we’ve always felt work experience was pretty unsatisfactory all round: we can’t help many people in a year; you inevitably end up doing quite a bit of boring stuff; and, if we’re honest, it’s a lot of work to do well. (And who wants to do it badly?)
So we cooked up Word Experience: we gather about 20 people together for two days of creativity, workshops and fun stuff. Along the way we’ll talk to you about how you can make a career out of writing for business, show you how our agency works, and some Writer folk will tell you their own stories of how they got into business writing. All to show you there’s a career for people who like words that isn’t publishing or journalism.
Then we usually pick two people from each year to come back and join us for a short paid internship. (And some of those have ended up working here.)
Keep reading if:
You already write for your course
Maybe you study English, journalism or creative writing. Or maybe you just write a lot of essays. (You don't have to be a student, though - maybe you just love writing.)
You write in your spare time too
You might write for your student paper, a blog, or fiction. It doesn’t matter, as long as you write.
You’re a bit of a word geek
You have a tendency to get excited or properly riled up by all kinds of writing. From tube ads to tubes of toothpaste, Booker Prize winners to Charlie Brooker.
Yes that’s me. What do I need to do?
Head to our application page and send us 300 words telling us why we should pick you (and a way for us to get in touch with you). And get it to us by Friday 23rd March.
Here’s what previous Word Experiencers have said:
‘Word experience is, in a nutshell, the workshop we all should have done ages ago. Finally it feels like there’s a company out there who is trying to show you how to turn what you love, into what you do. Those two days in London opened my eyes to an industry I was surrounded by and yet unaware of, it gave me a whole new appreciation for marketing, for words and for the people who write them.’
‘Hands-on activities included the sorts of word games that seem like harmless entertainment while you do them, but come loaded with Karate Kid-style moments of realisation that detonate later on. The other day I was struggling over an email to a tutor, then something clicked and (wax on, wax off) I realised I could cut out half the words to make it cleaner and clearer.’
Take some wishy-washy words. Add a line about causing offence. Sprinkle a hashtag. Hold the sympathy. Leave to simmer, then turn up the heat online for 15 minutes.
There you have the recipe for a half-baked public apology, cooked up by a publicist on behalf of a shamed celebrity. It’s a technique we’ve been seeing a lot of lately and, if social media is anything to go by, one we’re hot at spotting.
We get it though. Writing an apology (whether public or private) can be a minefield. Sometimes it’s because you’re afraid of looking weak. Or getting into hot water by admitting you’re in the wrong. But when sincerity is missing from your apology, it stands out at 40 paces.
So what’s our recipe for an effective apology?
Having a business is a lot like being famous. You’re judged on what you say and how you say it. A poor choice of words and your reputation can be left in tatters. But get it right and you’ll get good press, plenty of reassured customers and perhaps a few new ones for your efforts.
Whether you’re responding to a public outcry (for example, Ryanair’s cancelled flights last year) or a private letter, these must-have ingredients will help you avoid making a dog’s dinner of it.
An armful of active language
It’s an obvious one, but it shows you’re owning your apology. Sometimes you’ll see statements like ‘Mistakes were made’. By whom? We use the ‘by monkeys’ test. If you can add ‘by monkeys’ to the end of the sentence and it makes sense, it’s passive. Rejig the subjects and objects, and use verbs instead of nouns to turn what you’re saying active.
A healthy splash of sincerity
We see a lot of ‘We’d like to apologise for any inconvenience’, and we’d ban it if we could. It comes from the good old days of formal business language but in 2018, it comes across as copied and pasted from the user manual.
It’s also meaningless: the ‘we’d like to’ smacks of ‘we’re only doing this because we’ve been told we should’. The ‘apologise’ is a stuffy substitute for sorry, and ‘inconvenience’ is just plain rude. If you know what the fallout was (a missed wedding from a cancelled flight, a delay in opening a new account, a tree on the track) say it. It shows you’re listening and you care.
A pinch of personality
Every brand has a tone of voice. (Yours doesn’t? Call us.) It puts your brand’s aims and aspirations into words that everyone can get behind. It’s a big part of your end-to-end brand experience and so while you might think it’s only for the fun things (like an ad campaign or your website), it’s just as important – or even more so – for the more sensitive or serious stuff.
Because that’s where people really pay attention. By injecting a bit of your personality, you’re showing that your brand’s not run by robots reeling out the tired, formulaic phrases. And that you believe in talking to your customers in the same way, wherever they are in the journey.
A dash of humility
Being able to show that you’re learning works wonders. If you’re changing the way you do things, rethinking your strategy or simply refunding a payment, let your reader know. They’ll appreciate your honesty and openness (and the impact on their bank balance), and see your brand as more human than humdrum.
And a sprinkle of ‘sorry’
The all-important ingredient. Put it in first or leave it to the end. But put it in unsullied, untweaked and unfettered. No ifs, no buts, just sorry.
If you’re a company (or a celebrity) and your apologies need whipping into shape, get in touch.
‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’
No prizes for guessing who said this one, especially as I’ve put his name in the title. Churchill’s words on the Battle of Britain in 1940 are probably some of the most famous in history.
But something you might not know is that Churchill had a good few goes at these words – or a variation, at least – before he really got it right.
Forty years earlier, when speaking at a by-election in Oldham, no less, he said:
‘Never before were there so many people in England, and never before have they had so much to eat.’
Nine years later, he dusted off the old notebook and gave it another crack. This time he was talking about a new irrigation system in Africa:
‘Nowhere else in the world could so enormous a mass of water be held up by so little masonry.’
That’s not even the whole of it– there are loads more examples in here.
For any writer familiar with the feeling of struggling to get the words out, thinking about this example can be pretty freeing.
Effortless to read doesn’t mean effortless to write
Writing that looks naturally brilliant is, more often than not, the product of hours – or decades, in this example – of reworking something bit by bit until it just works.
When we see great words printed on an advert, or hear a great speaker say them, it can feel like they were always that way. That they just appeared fully-formed.
In reality, though, Churchill was able to come up with such a word-perfect line to suit this occasion because he was a great writer, yes, but also because he already had it in his armoury, after years of honing.
Let your first draft be a bit rubbish
We love the idea of the casual genius. But no one writes a perfect first draft.
There’s a myth that Abraham Lincoln scribbled the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope on the train on the way to give the speech. It’s a nice romantic image, but it’s not true: he spent a couple of weeks on it, probably made lots of revisions, and hated the idea of speaking off the cuff.
So next time you’re sat in front of a blank Word document, waiting for divine inspiration to strike, think about Churchill playing with the same words over forty years. Get a first draft out your system, and fix it later.
It’s that time of year again. Tinsel, turkey and, um, trend forecasting. The number crunchers at Foresight Factory have come up with a corker: in 2018, customers will choose brands that sound more human and empathise more.
Not to blow our own trumpet (well, maybe a bit), but we’ve been banging on about this for years. How talking like a real person and putting your readers’ needs first is good for business.
Luckily there are loads of chances for brands to show they’re run by real people. Face to face (obvs). TV ads. Web chats. Emails. Twitter.
But people often struggle to be their real selves when they write for work. They sound formal. They use tried and tested phrases that show they weren’t really listening. And they miss chances to build relationships.
We’ve found that it’s well worth breaking those habits and trying to write more like we speak. In fact, we once helped BT save £500,000 just by rewriting one paragraph of a call centre script.
Still need convincing? Find out what happened when our Harry challenged Dave Gorman on matters of writing like you speak… and how it helped O2 come out of a crisis smelling of roses.
And don’t wait for 2018 to get started. Next time you write something, try letting your human side show. Change words for ones you’d use when you’re speaking to a customer face to face. It’ll only take a couple of minutes and can totally change the way the reader feels about you.
We’re an opinionated bunch, here at The Writer. If you’ve ever worked with us, you’ll know we’ve got no time for things like buzzwords, or boring, formal writing.
But we know we’re in a bubble. We think about words all day, every day. On the plus side, that means we know our stuff. But on the minus, there’s always a danger that we’ll lose touch with how real people think.
So we teamed up with Nielsen and two well-known FMCG brands, let’s call them Soothe and Sport, to put our theories to the test.
We got our hands on one product concept each for Soothe and Sport. They’d already run the concepts through testing and both had got the worst possible result: ‘probable failure’.
We rewrote them both in three ways: one neutral, one in the Soothe tone of voice, one in the Sport tone of voice.
We wanted to see if good writing could improve a product concept’s performance in testing. And we also had a hunch that Soothe customers would prefer the Soothe tone of voice, and Sport customers would prefer the Sport tone of voice.
What we found
Good writing makes a disproportionately big difference. Our best-performing concept doubled the overall result of the previous version. (And each concept took us about 20 minutes to rewrite.)
Loyal customers prefer writing that’s in the brand’s tone of voice. The concept in the Soothe tone of voice was most popular with Soothe buyers.
Clear writing beats concise writing. Our best-performing concept was actually a little longer than the original. And a version we chopped right down ended up failing the clarity part of the test.
Metaphor works. As part of the testing, people had to click anything they particularly liked. The phrase that got the most love was this: The clay inside acts like a sponge.
People need to know what ingredients are for. The original Soothe concept talked about moisturising cream and vitamin B3, but left it there. In our rewrites, we gave the benefits attached to those ingredients, and took the result for the ‘credibility’ scale from bottom marks to top marks.
You can explain away people’s worries. The Sport product contains clay. After the original test, people were worried it would stain their clothes and clog their pores. In our versions, we named those worries and explained why they were unfounded. Nobody had any worries about the clay.