New Music Roundup – October 2017

While Post Malone (real name Austin) might continue to dominate the singles chart, the more interesting stuff is (as is increasingly the case) to be found away from the top 40.

Albums

If you hanker for the days when Taylor Swift just made inoffensive country-infused pop music, then you’re in for a treat once you discover the breezy sound of Kelsea Ballerini. Her second album Unapologetically is out now and it’s a solid collection of MOR country with a handful of enormous choruses.

Single Unapologetically is probably the highlight here, and while it couldn’t be less visionary or original, Ballerini does what she does pretty well.

I’ve been a huge fan of Kelly Clarkson for years now and the former American Idol star is now on her eighth album. Sadly, The Meaning Of Life is the first time that I’ve been totally underwhelmed by a Clarkson record, and that’s despite the fact that lead single Love So Soft has grown on me over recent weeks.

She gets her lungs around a couple of decent ballads here – check out I Don’t Think About You – but I’m not a fan of the direction she has taken here. It doesn’t matter though, as Christmas is nearly here and so I can get the brilliant Wrapped In Red out for another year.

I never thought I’d see the day where I’d be recommending any album closely associated with Russell Crowe, but his new collective Indoor Garden Party have a record out, and while it’s not wall-to-wall brilliant it certainly has its moments.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the moments where Crowe relinquishes lead vocal duties that are the highights. Single Out Of Range is a really solid power ballad, and Samantha Barks (off of Les Miserables has a superb voice.

Some of the record sounds like Crowe doing rabble-rousing Australian drinking songs, but overall it’s certainly got enough going for it to be worth a listen.

Singles

Erik Jonasson’s debut single Like A Funeral was so good that I honestly didn’t think he’d ever be able to hit those heights. Then, along came Autumn Falls – one of my singles of 2016 – and now Jonasson is back with a new single. I’m not sure Those Words ever quite reaches the brilliance of his previous releases, but I love it and I cannot wait for a full album to finally emerge.

I’m a massive fan of singer/songwriter Frances and she’s teamed up with Grey on their new single Room 101. It seems like a gentle ballad but gets really interesting towards the end thanks to some amazing production. A real grower, this one.

Tom Chaplin is joining the Christmas album bandwagon this year, although there is hope as at least two-thirds of it is brand new material. Lead single Under A Million Lights is decent enough, even if it does sound like Keane hit Higher Than The Sun and is guilty of some rather Dr Seuss-esque rhymeage.

Other stuff to check out includes Scar, the great debut track from Tremors, The VHS Collection’s So I Met Someone and It’s A Shame, where First Aid Kit properly get their country rocks off.

One of the best pop records of the last few months comes from Rae Morris ahead of her second album, due in February 2018. Do It is just the chirpiest and catchy single currently around, and if here upcoming record is half as good as this it promises to be a treat.

What about you? Like any of these? What have you been listening to?

Why the new TSB advert may be the most shameless and cynical ever

As you may have noticed, the TSB brand is back on the High Street. For those of us that remember the old Trustee Savings Bank – I opened my very first bank account with the TSB back in the 1990s – having the Bank That Likes To Say Yes back in action seems a bit like a return to the halcyon days of old fashioned banking.

The TSB’s return has been accompanied by a charming animated

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commercial.

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If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s here:

Now, I have no axe to grind with the TSB. I’m sure the people who work there are lovely and I never had any trouble with my current account there 20 odd years ago. What I do have a problem with, though, is this advert: one of the most disingenuous I have ever seen.

For reasons of clarity, let’s outline the facts surrounding TSB’s recent past:

1. The bank existed as its own entity until 1986

2. In 1986 shares in TSB Bank were floated on the stock market

3. In 1995 it merged with the Lloyds Banking Group. The two brands were amalgamated and shareholders then owned shares in Lloyds TSB

4. In 2008, the falling HBOS share price led Lloyds taking over its rival. Lloyds TSB shareholders approved the takeover in November 2008 (thanks to JP for the clarification, here)

5. The British Government bailed out the bank by buying a 43.4% stake in the group in 2009

6. As this purchase was considered ‘state aid’, under European Commission competition laws, the group was required to sell a portion of its business

7. The group decided that a number of Lloyds TSB branches in England and Wales, together with all branches of Lloyds TSB Scotland plc and Cheltenham & Gloucester will form a new business which will operate under the TSB brand

8. The new TSB bank is expected to float in 2014

In short, the TSB bank ceased to exist in 1995 when shareholders approved a merger with Lloyds. Then, the ‘new’ bank was taken over by HBOS and, thanks to its failure and the requirement for government intervention, was forced to divest itself of 632 branches

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which are now branded as TSB.

Let’s check this version of events against the TSB advert, shall we?

“He [Henry Duncan] built a bank whose sole purpose was to help hard working, local people. He believed industry could be encouraged and a sense of pride and independence fostered only when a bank served its community with the people’s interests at its heart.”

Hmm. Nice ideas but starting to look a bit shaky at the point where the bank is considering a stock market flotation…

“The groundwork had been laid for ordinary people to thrive, along with their neighbours. To build communities together. Secure in the knowledge that their money was safe and working for the benefit of all.”

I’m pretty sure that the nature of a stockmarket flotation – as TSB did in 1986 – means that the bank is now working for the benefit of its shareholders rather than its customers. And, a merger with a major rival that is approved by shareholders doesn’t suggest to me that the money ‘was working for the benefit of all’.

Anyway, it goes on.

“And then a storm came. In the turbulent times that followed it was easy to think the ideals that Henry Duncan held so dear had been lost forever. But they hadn’t. They had always been here just waiting to be found. TSB – Welcome back to local banking.”

Really?

So, we’re supposed to buy the notion that the relaunch of the TSB brand is an attempt to reconnect with 200 year old visions of what a bank should be like? That Lloyds and subsequently HBOS were simply keeping TSB warm and cosy until such a time when the British public demanded that behaviour from a bank again? That the TSB is going to be a local bank run for the benefit of its customers?

The TSB is back for one reason and one reason only: because HBOS – its owner- failed, the government bailed it out and the laws meant that they had to flog some of their assets. Indeed, had the Co-Operative Bank not pulled out of a deal for the 632 branches at the eleventh hour, the TSB would still be a distant memory and those locations would now be branded as the Co-Op.

And next year the TSB will be floated, once again owned by shareholders and ripe for being gobbled up by a rival when the economy recovers.

I can’t help thinking that Henry Duncan – the man behind the TSB – wouldn’t be celebrating at the return of the ideals on which his bank was based. He’d be disappointed and let down by the appalling spin that HBOS are putting on this whole campaign. Inaccurate, shameless and cynical, this is one of the most unpleasant adverts I’ve seen in recent years.

English students identify the 3 factors that make great copy

Since October, I’ve been teaching a professional writing course to a group of second year degree students at the University of Nottingham. Their Creative and Professional Writing degree is one of only a handful of courses in the UK that incorporates copywriting, business writing and copy-editing as well as more traditional English modules. And, as it’s a compulsory module, they all have to come to the lectures. (You’ll have to ask them about that.)

Before Christmas, I set them an assignment which contributed towards their final degree grade. I asked them to identify the three factors that, in their opinion, were essential to great quality copy. They then had to critique a piece of copy against these criteria.

Having marked the 17 assignments, I thought it would be interesting to share the results with you, and for you to see what the students consider the three factors that make great copy. In order, the results were:

  1. The copy should be clear, concise and easy to read
  2. It should contain good ‘calls to action’
  3. It should be focused on the reader

Other choices included ‘a good headline’, ‘the correct tone of voice’, ‘it should be reader focused’ and ‘it should be benefit driven’.

Now, clearly these are all important factors and a good piece of copy will no doubt satisfy all of these criteria and more. However, it got me thinking as to what my choice of three factors would have been. After some deliberation, I think I’d have chosen:

  1. Good copy should be benefit driven
  2. It should focus on the reader
  3. It should have a good call to action

Some of the students had an excellent grasp of copywriting ‘theory’ (such as it is) and produced some excellent work, justifying their choices with research and examples. But, if you had been asked to complete a similar assignment, what would you have chosen? Do you agree with the students’ choices? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

————————————

Author: Nick Parkhouse, Published 18 January 2013

Do you mind your manners when you write?

For a few weeks before Christmas, I spent much of my time helping my wife with her fast-growing online business. For a couple of months, she spent 18 hours a day making lovely ceramic gifts while I looked after the logistics of sending hundreds of orders far and wide.

For a long period, our lead time for orders was around 3 weeks. This was clearly marked on the product pages and in the confirmation e-mail when customers placed

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an order. For most people that was fine but, as you would expect, a handful of people got in touch to ask if they could receive their order a bit sooner.

This is typical of the emails I was receiving from clients:

Hi there

I recently ordered a personalised necklace for my mum’s Christmas present. I note from the email that the estimated date of dispatch for this is 17 December which will be after I last see her before Christmas. Is there any possible way of a quicker dispatch?

Kind regards

On the face of it, this seems like a perfectly polite request. But look closer. Nowhere does the customer use a small but important word: ‘please’.

For a few weeks I was receiving several of these emails every day. Clearly we couldn’t prioritise everyone’s order, so I developed a simple rule. If the customer said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, I’d prioritise it. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t.

Now. I appreciate that this may seem a bit picky and a bit arrogant. However, it actually got me thinking about how easy it is for manners to go out of the window when you write. Had any of these people spoken to me about their order, I expect all of them would automatically

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have said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

I then began to notice that I wasn’t saying ‘please’ in my own emails and correspondence either, even when I was asking quite a favour. This is something that I’ve immediately tried to remedy.

As copywriters, we spend days asking people to ‘call us now’ or ‘get in touch today’ without ever saying ‘please’. I appreciate that it’s not relevant (or indeed appropriate) in all cases, but wouldn’t your copy be

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a little bit warmer and more polite if you just said the magic word once in a while?

Have you had any success with using the word ‘please’? Do you automatically include it? And does your copywriting mind its manners? Please share your thoughts below.

————————————

Author: Nick Parkhouse, Published 11 January 2013

Get with the program(me)

One of my current projects is to rewrite the website of one of the region’s biggest motor companies.? This morning, I was looking at their ‘About Us’ pages when I happened upon some information about their Customer Care Program.

It got me thinking.? Is it a Customer Care Program in the UK?? Or a Customer Care Programme?

Program or Programme?

Apparently, the word ‘program’ was predominantly used in the UK until the 19th century, when the spelling ‘programme’ became more common — mainly as a result of influence from French, which has the same word ‘programme’.

So, if you’re using the word in British English, they you should almost always use ‘programme’.

The one exception is when you are referring

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to the word in the context of computing.? A computer program should always be the shorter version of the word.

So, in British English:

  • You can take advantage of our Customer Care Programme
  • I can’t get this program to run on my PC
  • My favourite television programme is Doctor Who

However, if you’re writing in American English you should always use the word ‘program’, whatever the context.? The same is generally true of Australian English, where ‘program’ is also mainly used (although ‘programme’ is still in common usage).

So, if you want someone to ‘get with the program’, you probably want to be using the American version.? Or don’t use that horrible phrase at all, of course.

As a verb

Using the word as a verb follows much the same rules.

If you want to tell your computer to do something, you will program it.? For example, ‘it is easy to program this PC’.

However, if you’re using British English and want to programme anything else, use the longer version.? For example ‘the next stage of the plan is programmed for next year’.

So, my

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clients now have a Customer Care Programme.? Lovely.

Inquiry or Enquiry?

I mentioned a week or so ago that one of my aims for 2012 was to avoid blithely using terms and words that I assumed were right and actually undertake a bit of research to check I was using them correctly.

Last time I looked at the correct usages of ‘while’ and ‘whilst’ and this time I thought I’d double check I was using ‘inquiry’ and ‘enquiry’ in the right places.? Are they interchangeable?? Or do they mean different things?

Inquiry or enquiry?

As with many of these things, the simple answer is ‘either’.? For example, the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary presents the two spellings as interchangeable variants in the general sense.

However, there is a subtle difference between the two terms.

In the UK, ‘enquiry’ is generally a term that is used to refer to ‘the act of questioning’, such as:

  • He enquired about her health
  • I made an enquiry about the price of a ticket

‘Inquiry’, however, is more commonly used when referring to a formal investigation, such as:

  • There will be a public inquiry into the riots
  • The police are making inquiries about the incident

A simple way to remember which to use is to consider that an ‘inquest’ (an official investigation) is related to ‘inquiry’.

Just to confuse you (of course): if you are writing in American or Australian English, inquiry is normally the correct word, irrespective of the circumstances.

Have you any examples of when ‘inquiry’ or ‘enquiry’ might be correct, or suggestions for seemingly interchangeable terms that I can consider in this feature?? Let me know in the comments below.

Choosing an e-mail subject line to guarantee readers

Here’s something that I’d really appreciate your help with.

I’m writing a monthly newsletter for a client of mine who runs a

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catering company in London.? They produce lovely breakfast and lunch platters of sandwiches, wraps, cakes, pastries and fruit for meetings, conferences and so forth.? The newsletter is intended to go to existing customers and subscribers by e-mail.

I’ve written the copy which is broadly in four small pieces:

  • A personal piece from the owner (a sort of ‘Happy New Year’ and an introduction to the rest of the newsletter)
  • A focus on one of his products relevant to the time of year
  • A ‘did you know?’ piece with some random trivia and facts
  • A special offer for newsletter subscribers

The template he has is lovely and the newsletter is easily readable and not too long.

My issue though is this: I’m not sure what to put in the subject line of the e-mail.? I have been racking my brains this morning for something catchy that would encourage recipients to open the e-mail and read the newsletter immediately.? Part of me thinks that focusing on the one main benefit (the exclusive

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discount) would be the way forward, whereas part of me thinks it should have something to do with the subject (so a New Year reference, so when I do next months the subject can be whatever I choose to write about in February (probably Valentine’s Day)).

Does anyone have any ideas

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or experience of this?? What works best?? Please share in the comments below.? Thanks!

The Quandary Of Examples

Providing examples of your work is nothing new in business.

Drive through any housing estate and you’re likely to see signs adjacent to beautifully paved driveways, well appointed extensions and beautifully coiffured lawns by companies proud to show off their work.? And, I suppose that if you were planning to have your loft converted then you might have a peek at your chosen builder’s most recent job to check that rainwater isn’t streaming down the wall of the en-suite.

And, not unreasonably, when I speak to new clients many of them ask me to point them in the direction of websites I have written or ask me to e-mail them examples of my work.? You’ve probably had to do the same thing at some point.

What I am

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increasingly wary of, however, are clients who, after a meeting or conversation, then provide me with a couple of topics and ask me to write something specifically for them.? The argument is always that they want to be sure I can write the copy they need before they employ my services.

Now, this happened to me a week or two ago and I spent a good part of one morning coming up with some dedicated copy for a client.? This followed a telephone conversation, a meeting and the provision of some links to websites and pieces I had written in the past.

In the misguided assumption that I was imminently to be hired, I duly provided some copy.? Then, two days later, I received a message thanking me but telling me that they ‘were interviewing other people’ and that they would be in touch.

This whole episode has put me off writing any specific examples for clients again.? Should I provide my time for free?? I’m not sure.? If I wanted my car MOT’d, I wouldn’t ask the garage to change the oil filter for me first just so I could double check they did a decent job, would I?

So, what do you do in this situation?? Are you happy to provide sample copy? Or, do

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you refer clients to work you have previously concluded and ask clients to make their decision based on these examples?? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

The Mary Poppins Guide to Copywriting

For forty five years, children and adults alike have been spellbound by the story of the world’s favourite nanny, Mary Poppins.? While the main purpose of her flying visit (pun intended) was to repair the fractured relationship between Jane and Michael Banks and their uptight, stuffy father, the supernanny also taught the children important lessons about priorities, how to behave and, of course, the basics of copywriting.

Well, I can’t be sure the last bit is exactly what P.L. Travers or Walt Disney intended, but, you have to admit, Poppins was something of a copywriting guru.

A Spoonful Of Sugar

For every task that must be done, there is an element of fun.? It’s not a song about cleaning up the nursery; it is one of the basic rules of copywriting.? You have to give the reader a personal benefit.

A spoonful of sugar in itself doesn’t sound all that appealing.? Even if it were described as an ‘award winning spoonful of sugar from a company that’s been in business 35 years’ it still doesn’t really offer you anything of any value.

However, a spoonful of sugar that will help you by making your medicine go down?? Now you’re talking.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

If you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious. ? Wise words, indeed. ? Copywriting isn’t a game of ‘spot how clever you are’ – it is a game of making people understand what you are saying.

You might know that your product is a great tasting beverage; to others it’s merely a drink.? You might want to purchase or acquire something; most of us just buy it.? And, you might be offering customers the very best ‘flexible, reusable storage solution’ but a four year old will tell you that it is just a cardboard box.

If you are writing a University essay or something for the Financial Times, then let your vocabulary run riot.? If not, the sound of ii will be something quite atrocious.

Stay Awake/I Love to Laugh

Copy is not designed as a cure for insomnia.? ? ? It is supposed to engage readers; to make them interested and excited about your product or service.? Too many websites contain long, boring descriptions of product features that are neither customer focused or in the slightest bit interesting.

Make your copy snappy, personal, amiable and, in some cases, funny.? The more you laugh, the more you fill with glee; the more the glee, the more we’re a merrier we.

A British Bank

…is run with precision (well, at least it was in 1910, perhaps not so much today).? A British home, requires nothing less.? And, of course, a copywriting agency also requires accuracy and precision.

Tradition, discipline, and rules must be the tools, without them – disorder! Catastrophe! Anarchy! In short, we have a ghastly mess!

Make sure that you double and triple check all your work before letting a client see it.? Proof read and spell check it – and even get a colleague to have a look over it to pick up on any errors that you might have missed.? If a client finds a mistake in your work, your integrity is instantly damaged as they will immediately wonder what other blunders they haven’t spotted.

So, follow all of Poppins’ rules and both you and your clients will be happy.? They will improve their web traffic and sales, and you will be free to, oh, I don’t know – go fly a kite?? Feed the birds, maybe…?

……………………………………………

Nick Parkhouse is a professional writer. If you need web copy, articles, books or press releases, get in touch with Nick now at info@nickparkhouse.com

Nick’s first book, 101 Forgotten Pop Hits of the 1980s, is also now available through Author House, Amazon and Waterstones.

Rewards

Credit Card RewardsHaving worked in retail financial services for fourteen years, assisting a client with the creation, design and content for a credit card comparison site was a job perfectly tailored to my skills.

Credit Card Rewards has quickly grown to become one of Australia’s most popular card comparison sites thanks, in no small part, to the 70 odd card reviews and almost 200 articles about cards, fees, banking and charges that I have provided the site to date.? Combining my knowledge of financial services with my writing ability has been almost the ideal job.

(Incidentally, and annoyingly, about the only thing on the entire site that I didn’t write was the homepage welcome text, which I don’t like very much.? My version was (in my humble opinion) *much* better…..!

The site continues to grow and is now quite the resource – as well as dozens of cards to compare it contains

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a huge amount of information.? I’m pretty proud of the way it has turned out, and my client is delighted with it too.

Having written countless articles about how to avoid credit card and identity fraud, I actually took some of my own advice today.? When an obviously fraudulent ‘phishing’ e-mail turned up in my inbox today, I researched the provider it was purporting to be and forwarded the e-mail to their security department.? Practice what you preach, and all that….

And now this project is up and running, the same client has turned his attention to an altogether more, er, ‘adult’ online market. More of that in due course….

Nick Parkhouse is a professional writer. He provides articles, copy, press releases and books and marketing material to a range of local and international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports companies as well finance, property, politics and cinema writing.