Flash Fiction:
a complete story in one thousand words
or fewer.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Marketing Copy: Condensing An Intro Into An Ad

A task at my day job seemed perfectly suited to creating a new blog post: create a newsletter ad for a white paper download. The white paper in question is “Leveraging Integration to Weather the Economic Storm”, which you can find here (registration required).

The specs for the advertisement called for 75 or fewer words. I figured that I should distill the paper’s message into 75 words by copying the introduction, which is itself a distillation of the paper. Here it is:

Even the toughest of times comes with a silver lining. Economic slowdowns and other business challenges force us to refocus our efforts on our core business practices. They shift our attention to the things we tend to ignore during periods of growth – like improving efficiency, cutting costs, and enhancing strategies.

But, fear and pessimism are not the answer. Planning and decision-making based on reason, rather than dread and apprehension, are the keys to weathering the storm.

Remember, tough times don’t last forever. A little advance planning now could pay off when the economy begins its inevitable upswing. That’s where integration comes in. While corporations are implementing rigid cost-cutting measures across the board, many are actually increasing their spending on integration projects and related technologies. And, with good reason.

This white paper highlights four primary ways to use integration to make your business better during a down economy. You’ll discover how, with the right integration plan and supporting software in place, your company can increase efficiency, minimize expenses, and streamline and accelerate core processes. You’ll also learn about iWay Software, and what makes it the ideal suite of solutions for any integration project. And, as a bonus, we’ll tell you about two innovative ways to leverage your results to put yourself in the best possible position when the expansion begins.

[Yes, I hate the construction “Conjunction, blah blah blah” at the beginning of a sentence, too. The editorial staff has promised me that they’ll eventually fix that.]

So I’m starting with 219 words, over 1400 characters. I need to cut this thing by 66%.

I could start by rewriting, but that’s tough. Instead, I decided to get rid of all of the fat.
Even the toughest of times comes with a silver lining. Economic slowdowns and other business challenges force us to refocus our efforts on our core business practices. They shift our attention to the things we tend to ignore during periods of growth – like improving efficiency, cutting costs, and enhancing strategies.

Why “and other business challenges”? This is a paper about the economy, not about other business challenges.

“Force us to refocus our efforts on” is seven words where “make us focus on” will do.

Combining sentences can be effective, as long as they don’t get unwieldy. In this case, instead of starting a new sentence with “They shift our attention”, I can use “, shifting our attention”. It’s only one word, but it sets a style that I can use later.

Prepositional phrases trigger my cutting instinct: “periods of growth” are “growth periods”.
Even the toughest of times comes with a silver lining. Economic slowdowns make us refocus on core business practices, shifting our attention to the things we ignore during growth periods: improving efficiency, cutting costs, and enhancing strategies.

37 words from 50: a 26% cut.
But, fear and pessimism are not the answer. Planning and decision-making based on reason, rather than dread and apprehension, are the keys to weathering the storm.

I want to axe this whole sentence just because it begins with But-comma. But I won’t. I’ll axe it because I’m pretty sure that I won’t get the chance to keep this, and it really only adds to the mood without adding any specific information. Away it goes.
Remember, tough times don’t last forever. A little advance planning now could pay off when the economy begins its inevitable upswing. That’s where integration comes in. While corporations are implementing rigid cost-cutting measures across the board, many are actually increasing their spending on integration projects and related technologies. And, with good reason.

I’m looking for the contrast between “Tough times” and “But there’s more to think about” that I had in the last version, so I’ll change “Remember” to “But”.

In the second sentence, “now” is redundant (when else are you going to do advance planning?), while “begins its inevitable upswing” just takes too long.

The next sentence is trying to strike a balance in the original: even though people are spending less, they’re careful to fund integration (“and related technologies” – I should have cut them, but didn’t notice it when I was iterating through this process. Don’t worry, though, they don’t really matter, so they’ll be cut soon). I can change the tone slightly by making it sound like some companies are rigid in their cost-cutting efforts (which is true) while others are increasing their integration spend (also true).
But tough times don’t last forever. A little advance planning could pay off when the economy swings upwards. While some corporations implement rigid cost-cutting measures, others are increasing their spending on integration projects and related technologies. And with good reason.

That’s 42 words, down from 50 in this paragraph plus the entire 26 words from the previous one: 45% cut.
This white paper highlights four primary ways to use integration to make your business better during a down economy. You’ll discover how, with the right integration plan and supporting software in place, your company can increase efficiency, minimize expenses, and streamline and accelerate core processes. You’ll also learn about iWay Software, and what makes it the ideal suite of solutions for any integration project. And, as a bonus, we’ll tell you about two innovative ways to leverage your results to put yourself in the best possible position when the expansion begins.

This is the selling point, so I don’t want to cut too heavily. Just trim the fat first. “primary” goes away; “to use integration to make” becomes “integration can make”; “You’ll discover how, with the right integration plan and supporting software in place, your company can” becomes “You’ll discover how integration can help your company”; “we’ll tell you about” becomes “we’ll discuss”; “to put yourself in the best possible position when” becomes “to position yourself well for when”. (That last one isn’t a perfect map, but I think it’s close enough.)
This white paper highlights four ways integration can make your business better during a down economy. You’ll discover how integration can help your company increase efficiency, minimize expenses, and streamline and accelerate core processes. You’ll also learn about iWay Software, and what makes it the ideal suite of solutions for any integration project. As a bonus, we’ll discuss two innovative ways to use your current results to position yourself well for when the expansion begins.

91 words down to 75: an 18% cut.

Okay, that’s all nice, but we still need major surgery. We’re still at just over 150 words, which means we need to cut this in half. I’m running out of time on the post, so here is a rush-through of the next two iterations:

* “Even the toughest of times comes with a silver lining” is trying too hard to get the metaphor in there. Cut it to “Even tough times bring some good results.”

* “Economic slowdowns make us refocus on core business practices, shifting our attention to the things we ignore during growth periods” really means “Economic slowdowns shift our attention to core processes we ignore during good times”.

* The “advance planning” section is too much. What’s the point? That you need a plan. So come out and say that: “But tough times don’t last forever. A little advance planning could pay off when the economy swings upwards” becomes “But you also need a plan for when the tough times end.”

* Stop talking about “some corporations”, which is wordy and distant, and talk about what you need to do, person-who-should-download-my-white-paper. Something like “Instead of implementing across-the-board cost-cutting measures, you may need to shift spending to integration projects.” But is that the point? Not really: the point is that you need to download my white paper to see why you should focus on these four specific integration projects. The latter implies the former. So cut that whole line.

* For the last paragraph, eliminate the repetition (now glaring because of its proximity) of improving efficiency, cutting costs, and enhancing strategies. What are we really doing in the white paper? Well, the four projects improve efficiencies and cut costs, while the forward-looking stuff is strategic. So say that: “This white paper shows four ways integration can make your business more efficient and less costly, and discusses two innovative ways to use these results for strategic advantage in the coming expansion.”

* Finally, what about iWay Software branding? People who download the paper expect some iWay discussion in the paper, and the logo is already on the download page, so it’s really redundant and may even put people off just a little bit. What’s important is that we prove that the things we’re talking about aren’t pipe dreams, that they’re things people have actually done. If we show that our customers have done the work, prospects will naturally think that we can do it for them. “Better still, you’ll see case studies that prove it can be done.”

Here’s the final:
Even tough times have some good results. They force us to focus on improving efficiency, cutting costs, and enhancing strategies.

But we also need plans for when tough times end. This white paper shows four ways integration can make your business more efficient and less costly, and discusses two innovative ways to use these results for strategic advantage in the coming expansion. Better still, you’ll see case studies that prove it can be done.

74 words, and right on deadline.

I wouldn’t use exactly this for the introductory copy, but going through the iterations here made me wish we’d done more cutting on the paper itself. But the paper’s not bad. If integration is interesting to you, go download it. If not, then I hope you got something out of the discussion of the cutting process.

What do you think?

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