social media

Good Things Come In Easy-To-Open Packages


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2018 has been an eventful year, and with Brexit uncertainty ahead, many businesses are having to work harder than ever to stay competitive.

My Christmas gift to you is to offer some thoughts on how to make things just a little easier on yourself, and maybe make it a little more possible to take a well deserved rest this holiday.

Cognitive Ease

You may have heard of the principle of ‘cognitive ease’. This concept is discussed at length by Nobel Prize winner Danny Kahneman in his renowned bestselling book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

When we are launching new products, events or initiatives, there’s usually a lot of information that needs to be communicated to the target audience. In a busy world, we’re competing against a lot of noise to get our information out there, and have it received well.

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This simple principle can help you in designing press releases, marketing and social media campaigns for maximum uptake with minimum stress.

Cognitive ease is when our most basic, instinctive operating system receives new information which feels palatable, acceptable and familiar. Unfamiliarity, complexity and effort all trigger our brains to switch into a more interrogative mode—and that can result in your audience simply turning off.

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Make It Easy

For an initially positive response, choosing words, fonts and a colour palette that are easy to pronounce, assimilate and understand allows your audience to relax into a receptive frame of mind.

Come Again?

Even more effective is repetition. Kahneman describes an experiment based on social psychologist Robert Zajonc’s ‘mere exposure effect’, in which various foreign words were repeatedly (and without explanation) published on the front page of a college newspaper over a period of months. At the end of the campaign, when the newspaper readership was polled on the perceived ‘good’ or ‘bad’ qualities of these foreign words, those which appeared more frequently were rated much more favourably than those shown only once or twice.

This apparently bizarre response is explained by our historical biological conditioning to be wary of novel events. It’s not our ‘conscious experience of familiarity’, but what we perceive at a base level.

Novelty that works

You may have new or challenging ideas to communicate, and you’re certainly looking for audience engagement and response—but using familiarity and safety to reach out doesn’t mean killing creativity. In a recent Freakonomics podcast, Tessa Amabile, a psychologist and a professor emerita at the Harvard Business School, describes creativity as “essentially, novelty that works. It has to be somehow feasible, workable, valuable, appropriate to a goal.”

So there’s something about even the newest and most radical idea that has to have a hook in our consciousness; something which resonates, makes itself palatable and understandable. Something just a little familiar.


The world-renowned graphic designer Michael Bierut takes up this idea in the podcast, and expands on it, referencing a 20th century designer, Raymond Loewy, who coined the credo:

MAYA: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable… it was based on his theory that everyone has these two impulses. And one is the desire for regularity and comfort, and the other one is the quest for surprise and novelty, right? If you have too much regularity and comfort, you get bored. If you get too much surprise and novelty, you get overexcited, wired and distracted and exhausted. It’s the idea that it’s novelty with a purpose.

So when you’re planning your next communication, remember that good things come in easy-to-open packages: whatever’s in the box, get the wrapping right!


For help with writing or editing, a free consultation or quotation, please contact, or give me a call on 07988 858873 to talk more.

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Happy World Story Telling Day!

To celebrate World Story Telling day, and to find out what Samuel T Coleridge and YouTube have in common, read my latest article, published today on (@CraftContent).

(Eagle eyed readers of the IJLA blog may spot that an earlier version of this article first appeared on here, last year.)

Beautiful words surround us – I'm featured in the PCN spotlight this week!

image credit: Luis Llerena

image credit: Luis Llerena

The Professional Copywriters' Network are featuring me in their spotlight this week, with an interview on my journey into freelance writing and editing, the high points of the job (as well as the bug bears!), what I do to jettison writer's block, and advice to writers who are just starting out.

For the full article, click here. To learn more about how I can help you, please go to My Work page, or contact me directly.

Mind The Gap: Expertly Communicating Your Brand in Every Message

In reaching out to customers or partners, it’s tempting to imagine that simply producing more – maximising the amount we say and how often we say it – will effectively demonstrate who we are. But just getting your brand out there, advertising, engaging with social media marketing, or churning out reports or white papers is not enough to ensure you are successfully connecting with your audience.

Pandering for traffic is not brand building. Winning the respect of your audience is.
— Lewis DVorkin "Journalists and Statistics, Paying Attention to the New Media World" Forbes

Reaching your customer base and clearly expressing your relevance, your core values or your unique selling points requires a clear understanding of that audience.

image credit:  WDNet Studio

image credit: WDNet Studio

  • What matters to them?
  • What information or experience in your field do they already have?
  • How much detail do they need?
  • What are you offering?
  • What is your call to action?

These questions are likely to be familiar to you – we’re all brands now, whether you are a commercial business with products or services to sell, a startup, a consultancy, advocacy organisation or social enterprise.

However, the next step may be tougher...

image credit:  Greg Plom, pixabay

image credit: Greg Plom, pixabay

Your product or skill base may be the leanest, smartest, most effective on the market; your service may add significant value to your customer; your bid may be the most competitive – but if you can’t express that reality, you’re relying on your customers to make a big jump to close the gap.


The Hidden Logic of Success

The really good news is that being brilliant at anything is simply a matter of careful rehearsal. In Bounce, Matthew Syed debunks the talent myth, demonstrating that hours of purposeful practice builds our competence and expertise, until – seemingly effortlessly and innately – we are performing to the highest levels. When we see extraordinary prowess, in any field, "we are witnessing the end-product of a process measured in years… what we do not see is what we might call the hidden logic of success." Syed, Bounce (Fourth Estate 2011)

After years of experience in restructuring, redrafting, and refining, a professional writer instinctively finds the right words, nuance, tone and pace to connect to and convince their audience.

The famous 10,000 hours, coined by influential sports and business commentator Malcolm Gladwell, represents the amount of time we need to invest in a complex task to achieve mastery. Writing fluently and persuasively is such a skill – and given enough practice, anyone can become an expert communicator. After years of experience in restructuring, redrafting, and refining, a professional writer instinctively finds the right words, nuance, tone and pace to connect to and convince their audience, approaching each new project with the ability and speed of a specialist. 

So that’s the good news. But if you’re already pouring your energy and creativity into your core business, where do you find those extra hours to develop your ability to communicate? Right now, you have information you need to get into the marketplace: perhaps a report to put out, web copy to update; an article, a white paper, a summary…

That's when you should consider adding the skills of a freelance copy writer into your team – someone who has already written countless hours of material for a diverse range of services and organisations. Someone who can help you find your voice and reach your audience. Today.



For more on how I can help you to communicate, influence and explain, get in touch at

Why Telling Stories Matters For Your Business: Empathy Provokes Action

You may have seen this morning that both the Today programme and the BBC News front page, along with many print papers, ran headline pieces on an attempted murder trial.  And you could be forgiven for wondering why – because it wasn't real...

The defendant, the victim, and all of the witnesses were characters from The Archers – that national treasure, the long running radio soap airing six days a week, which usually focuses on nothing more stirring than the Flower & Produce Show, milk prices and poaching ethics.

“An everyday story of country folk” may not sound exactly riveting, and you certainly may not expect its fictional events to hit national headlines – but for the last year this 13 minute long nightly radio drama has built a compelling domestic abuse narrative around two central characters. Yesterday culminated in a unique one hour special, where jurors deliberated over an attempted murder charge against Helen Titchener, the terrorised wife.

An courtroom artist's impression of the fictional trial, created for Radio 4 by Julia Quenzler

An courtroom artist's impression of the fictional trial, created for Radio 4 by Julia Quenzler

But more dramatic than the triumphant Not Guilty verdict – greeted with euphoria by Archers fans on Twitter, where #FreeHelen has been trending for months – is the surprising action it has provoked beyond the fictional world of Ambridge.

In February this year, an Archers fan set up a Just Giving page for the ‘real life Helens’, to help listeners donate to the domestic violence charity Refuge. After seven months, the page has raised almost £160,000. That’s a phenomenal amount of money, largely given in increments of £10 and £20, simply as a response to a story.

No one associated with the radio drama has ever asked for a donation. Not once in the entire storyline has mention been made of Refuge, or their reliance on charitable giving to survive. Helen doesn’t even access this form of support to escape her abuser.

Simply put: the insight, compassion and outrage elicited by this story has triggered a spontaneous response from the show’s listeners, to collaboratively provide the best help they can. Nobody thinks Helen Titchener is real, but they are very clear that she represents a real experience for many.

Stories captivate us. We live out the emotions and ideas of the characters. We imagine ourselves in the same situations. We wonder how we could help. We want to act.

If you want to go beyond simple awareness from your audience, tell them a story – and watch them respond.

The Sooner You Start... Why Procrastination Isn't Always Bad

"I think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done."

Susan Orlean, journalist, author and staff writer for The New Yorker

We all do it. Industry leaders down to undergraduate students; creatives, executives, technicians and salespeople. You may even be doing it right now.

When faced with a big project, a lengthy report to read, a complex client conversation… we put it off. No matter how many helpful screening systems we employ (the Freedom app, for example, can disable all of your social media tools for a specified time), it’s human nature to find distractions amidst the call of focused work.

image credit:  Quinn Dombrowski

image credit: Quinn Dombrowski

So is procrastination always the thief of time? When the working world first embraced the internet, its perceived impact on employee productivity was overwhelmingly negative. Facebook and other social networking sites were blocked as matter of course, and using your computer for personal chores within working hours was a covert practice at best, and potentially a sackable offence. 

As the Internet Century has moved on, so too has our understanding of what worker efficiency looks like, at least in the world of the smart creative. Flexible hours and and the ‘always-on’ reality of working life has changed how we see the division of work and home, now far more integrated than before.

But time-wasting is still time-wasting, right? Not necessarily. Daniel Levitin writes in The Organized Mind about the switch our brains make between the ‘central executive’ — the fully focused prefrontal cortex which is actively engaged in a task — and the daydreaming state when our attention wanders. 

Our desire for productivity isn’t always best served by plunging into work. If we confront that complex task head on — what Adam Grant refers to in his recent TED talk as pre-crastination — we miss the opportunities that arise when our brains wander in a contemplative state.

"procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps."

Allowing yourself time to switch between focused attention and day dreaming (and yes, that includes going completely off topic: YouTube surfing, inbox clearing, Words With Friends, a run or walk…*), you can make the difference between pinging an instant comeback to a problematic email, or designing a thoughtful and constructive response; getting your report in on time, or creating something really worthwhile.

Of course if you’ve allowed time to watched the entire season five of Game Of Thrones, eaten your own body weight in pretzels, and run out of tweets — and you’re still struggling to get the words on a page — it may be time to call in some professional help.

* For some truly inspirational work-deferment, watch another procrastination connoisseur… Tim Urban's funny and enlightening TED talk, taking you Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator

He cannot choose but hear... Engaging your audience through storytelling

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.
— from 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', Samuel Coleridge


In the age of information, how do we choose to communicate? The answer is… in the same way as we have for thousands of years. Humans tell each other stories. The medium we choose may be different: a tweet, blog, email or text – but mankind has always warned, taught and understood themselves through narrative.

In his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future the business writer Daniel Pink explains that the critical skills of the 21st century are those of story tellers: “a society of creators and empathizers, of pattern recognizers and meaning makers”. To stand out in a crowded market, you must make an emotional connection with your audience.

Urban myths, cyberspace anecdotes, watercooler gossip: according to evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, social conversation makes up well over half of all human discussion in public places. The explosion of social media in the last ten years is in fact merely representative of what has been happening via word of mouth since humans first spoke at all.

Over the last few days the international community marked first World Storytelling Day, and then World Poetry Day. We celebrate these forms of communication because they are instinctive to us – they create the capacity to remember and to reflect.

Consider the last two or three stories you heard – read to your child at bedtime perhaps, or watched on television? A fairy tale warning of ravenous wolves in the woods; a Scandinavian crime thriller. A story captivates us where simple facts fail. We are gripped by another’s experience, and just as the wedding guest listening to the ancient mariner, we cannot choose but hear.

And there’s a story in everything. Forget the conventional wisdom telling us a news reporter may cover a political piece, or economics, and at the end of the show you’ll have a ‘human interest story’. Was there really any other kind? 

So when you next seek to convey technical information to your customers, to share an update on a breakthrough, to celebrate a new product – do it the intuitive way. Tell them a story.

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