The SCN Encourager – Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Short & sweet sounds good. Doesn’t always work, though.

Ray Edwards is one of the top copy writers in the country. His specialty is creating words, catch phrases, and compelling paragraphs that sell a product or service. He wouldn’t describe it exactly like this. Rather, he’d say that he writes copy that invites people to buy.

Since I’m not one of the top copy writers in the country – it’s nice to have sources like him to learn from – and people like you to share in my learning.

Hopefully, you’re not a premier copy writer like Ray. If you are, contact me. We can cut out the middleman!

I think every school leader and communicator would agree that frequently a message needs to go out that cannot simply be shortened into a tweet. Sometimes a district is introducing a new program or modifying an existing one – and like Ray would say – this presents a wonderful opportunity; if we choose to view it this way.

Ray would point out that good copy writers should not be showing off their “wordsmithing” skills when straightforward facts and details are what’s needed, like during a crisis. (Since I can’t show off during times of non-crisis, this pretty well wipes the slate clean for me…)

So let’s say your district has a new initiative or program to launch. Ray advises that if you have a blank screen or piece of paper in front of you, you should start writing about the problem your new school initiative or program will address. Tell about the problem you are taking steps to remedy.

Seems easy, right? The first paragraph should call attention to the problem your district is committed to resolving. It’s likely you already knew this, but I’ll bet Ray’s tip for the second paragraph will surprise you. (It did me. And if it doesn’t surprise you – maybe you are a top copy writer after all!)

After outlining “the problem” in your first paragraph, Ray states that effective sales or persuasive letters incorporate a second paragraph that AMPLIFIES the problem explained in the first paragraph.

Huh? Isn’t this redundant? Is it really necessary to go over the same problem again? Even though he says to take different path when approaching the stated problem one more time, this puzzled me.

Ray says it’s a matter of psychology. And we’re all living proof as to why the main “problem getting addressed” needs to be repeated. (I mean, AMPLIFIED.)

Ray believes that we (people, in general) have a universal tendency for minimizing our big problems and over-reacting to our more trivial problems. Because of this, he contends that you should use your second paragraph to AMPLIFY the problem your district is trying to solve. You want your readers to know that what you are proposing or taking action on is a really big deal. AMPLIFYING the problem in your second paragraph will help you achieve this.

For example, take the topic of retirement planning. Ray’s research would show that the majority of people get far more worked up over a bad hair day, missing a favorite TV program, or a bad call by a basketball referee than they do over what’s occurring in their 401K or 403(b). Little problems are easily understood and therefore they get magnified. Big problems (like obesity, a poor relationship with a family member, etc.) are usually complex and we cope by minimizing them in our minds.

Ray’s probably on to something. He believes in the vitality of “storytelling.” He just thinks we (us nimble communicator types) need to make sure our readers completely understand the full magnitude of problem or challenge we are addressing. We shouldn’t take the chance that they’ll minimize it. Only with this knowledge – along with an emotional tie-in – will readers better appreciate any proposed solution or call-to-action.

Great sales or persuasion letters are made or broken in the second paragraph, so Ray always assigns it a specific purpose.

I’m glad at my age to finally find out what it should be.

Tom Page, SCN

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