Shoot the coffee, not the barista

Have you seen this open letter from Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, written to the American people? In a country where there are more registered handguns than there are voters, I can see the sense in him saying he would prefer it if you didn’t carry a firearm when you pop in for a latte because: “The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers.”

The social media feedback has been massive, binary and very funny.

Hats off to his comms team: what a great way to use content and social media for an instant profile raise.

I suppose it would have been too simple to improve the flavour of the coffee… now where’s the nearest Costa?

Only a journalist will do

The word ‘content’ is used everywhere in the commercial world, mostly in a random and unstructured way.

That is scarcely surprising; it covers so many variable areas: marketing, obviously – we all know that. But also company websites, newsletters, brochures, company magazines, HR manuals, social media, annual reports, case studies, product reviews, customer testimonials, CEO blogs, user manuals. And so on…

Every piece of communication that people in companies write is information that can be shared. Maybe should be shared. Or maybe should be kept secret and private. It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that what is written is true, factually correct and penned so that is easily read and understood. In other words, created and crafted to a professional writing standard.

Which is why if it’s an important document this is a task best left to professional writers.


Because journalists, plausible manner and rat-like cunning to the fore*, have been trained to find stories amidst the puffery; to find an angle that makes the difference between a piece of boring sales piffle and something that people actually want to read, writing it both well and correctly.

You cannot learn this. It is an ability derived from experience that seeps into your consciousness like alcohol into your liver; slowly and over a period of time.

If the first thing your content says to people is “we cannot spell” or “we don’t care if this is interesting” the second thing it says is “we don’t care to get important things right”.

And that will be the end of that engagement.

*Nicholas Tomalin, Journalist: “The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.”

Candles & truffles make for celestial content

As a content junkie I am on way too many mailing lists, postal and digital. Sothebys International Real Estate division regularly sends me details of beautiful properties such as this one. It’s very sporting that someone there is of the opinion that I might be in the market for this gaff.

This morning Fortnum and Mason, the Piccadilly pickle merchant, sent me by Her Maj’s postal service an invitation to a season of ‘Autumn & Winter Events.’

These include a Pumpkin Carving Competition in October and then, in November, the store will host an evening featuring a gentleman called Roja Dove.

I think I should share the content of the invitation with you all.

“The world’s sole Professeur de Parfums will talk through the creation of a candle and the thoughts behind its making. Beginning with the raw materials, he will guide us through the evolving process to an understanding of how the scent is achieved. This is an evening of alchemy, enchantment and exquisite education.”

I’m not that interested in candles to be frank. My preferred environment involves machines, mostly those which travel at very high speed on land or in the air. Most of the content I write daily concerns these, their marketing, their design and their mighty engines.

But the Fortnum’s invitation made me mildly envious of its writer’s task.

It is not that I want to write about fashionable scents, though I am fairly confident that the research phase did not take place in a car factory or on an airfield site because of the consistently strong wind that rushes down the aligned runway.

That same week the shop will hold “A White Truffle Extravaganza with Angela Hartnett.” It’s a snip at £150 per person with a wine tasting menu running alongside for an additional £50 per person.

This is indeed how another half lives.

Jeeves was right all the time

Whatever you do that involves other people requires an understanding of what Jeeves* (not the search engine) called “the psychology of the individual”.

Each time that Bertie Wooster, that great comic creation by P G Wodehouse, or one of his chums, fell into the metaphorical soup, the imperturbable Jeeves fished them out, dried them off and allowed them to resume their carefree lives with nary a backwards glance.

His secret weapon, as his chronicler points out time after time, is encapsulated in the art of assessing exactly which buttons you need to press to get a chap to respond as you might wish him to.

As Bertie so eloquently put it: “Long association with Jeeves has developed the Wooster vocabulary considerably. Jeeves has always been a whale for the psychology of the individual, and I now follow him like a bloodhound when he snaps it out of the bag.”

Baby steps in journalism all start with knowing who your reader is.

The writing of first-class content for websites, newsletters and other communications collateral – our specialist subject – is based on precisely this premise. The actual re-arrangement of the alphabet to construct messages is the relatively easy part. Making the resulting words meaningful to the intended audience is the magical element. It is the key to getting folk to respond, whether you want them to work more efficiently, buy more goods or merely think well of you for the future.

*Incidentally, it is universally accepted that when mentioned he is always ‘Jeeves’. However, he has a first name – Reginald. This was revealed in the penultimate volume of Bertie’s memoirs ‘Much Obliged, Jeeves. Bertie was dumbfounded by the disclosure that Jeeves had a first name. I do not believe that he ever mentioned the matter again. Quite so.

US lawyer seeks clients who have suffered “sudden death”

An ad running in the US asks “If you have suffered a heart attack, sudden death or abnormal heartbeat, contact Davis & Crump …” and goes on to encourage those who have been injured or died whilst using a particular product, to call for cash compensation. Read more

Fascinating figures make for intriguing infographics

From an outside perspective the international arms trade is mostly shrouded in mystery. No longer: have a look at this startling content and be amazed at the dynamic use to which dry ‘think tank’ data can be put. Read more

It’s not Russia apparently…

It’s us – plus the Dutch and Americans – who apparently are host to most of the internet content that you wouldn’t want your husband, home help or children to see. Read more

Be careful what you wish for

Do you want your security transparent & accountable? Or would you prefer not to know what the government does in your name to keep you and me safe? Read more

If only I knew then, what I know now…

Because summer is about to give way to autumn, my inbox is filling with CVs from young people, fresh from uni. They did nothing about job-seeking in years two and three and are now keen to avoid the career-path that empty supermarket shelves offer. Read more