My new webinar: How to Write a Winning Award Entry

September 8th, 2014 by Maja

The trouble with being the only former PRWeek journalist to help PR consultancies and in-house teams with their entries for the biggest awards schemes in the UK, EMEA and the Americas is that there’s not enough me to go round! There are only so many SABRE, IPRA, PRWeek and Cannes Lions entries I can write and edit, even with my super-speedy skills.

So I’ve developed a brand new product for my lovely public relations clients: a one-hour webinar on How to Write a Winning Award Entry.

It’s a great introduction to writing high-quality first drafts that require minimal input from an editor.

I’ll take your team through the basics of structure and storytelling. The session will also give you a whole load of tools to create written entries that engage awards judges and present your most extraordinary work in the best light.

And I’ll also let you into the secret of the Besparkle Magic Formula. Use it, and it will give you the best possible chance of being shortlisted and winning prestigious PR awards around the world.

And the cost? Just £895, tailored to the schemes your agency wants to enter, and run at a time to suit your teams, wherever they are in the world.

I’m also offering the webinar on fixed dates through the lovely PR training experts at Big Fish Training – you can book here: http://www.bigfishtraining.com/awards.html

If you’d like to know more about the webinar, drop me a line on majapawinskasims@gmail.com and I’ll book you in.

Introducing the award entry Oyster card!

August 25th, 2014 by Maja

I’ve come up with a really exciting new idea: it’s kind of like an Oyster card or Carnet for award entries.

If you’re a PR agency or comms team that enters a lot of awards schemes and needs writing and editing support for multiple entries – some of my pan-European and global clients enter up to 20 campaigns for big schemes such as the SABREs and the IPRA Golden World Awards - then you’ll love this. Especially if you’re on a budget (and who isn’t, these days?).

This is how it works. It’s simply a pre-paid bulk buy discount on my award entry copywriting and editing service, that’s valid for a whole year. So if you know you’re planning to enter 10, 15 or 20 campaigns or consultancy categories over the next 12 months, why wouldn’t you want a discount?

I take your rough first drafts and give them the Besparkle treatment, turning them into beautifully-written entry-ready documents that engage the awards judges and tell a compelling story of your very best work.

Here’s the deal:

  • 10 entry drafts at pre-pay 10% discount rate: £2,700 (full rate £3,000)
  • 15 entry drafts at pre-pay 12% discount rate: £3,960 (full rate £4,500)
  • 20 entry drafts at pre-pay 15% discount rate: £5,100 (full rate £6,000)

Drop me a line right now on majapawinskasims@gmail.com if you’d like to know more.

And remember: I’m now offering consultancy packages to help you get more strategic in your approach to entering awards, including webinar training for your teams on how to write a great award entry. (See also my blog post: Should you be entering more awards.)

Should you be winning more awards?

July 19th, 2014 by Maja

Do your account teams rush to meet PR awards deadlines, and then get disheartened when they aren’t winning for outstanding client work that you know is better than the campaign that actually picked up the gong?

Dashing off award entries in a panic doesn’t always do justice to your most brilliant campaigns.

As a former features editor of PRWeek, I’ve been helping PR consultancies with their written award entries for 14 years.

Many of my clients approach me at the last minute, the week before the awards deadline. You’re often too busy working for your own clients and on new business to prioritise entering awards, after all.

What I do is transform your written entry into something that really engages the judges and effectively tells the story of your best work. And there’s no doubt that using a professional writer can help you win more awards.

I’ve worked with PR professionals across UK, EMEA and the Americas, helping consultancy and in-house teams achieve shortlistings and wins for hundreds of PR, marketing, and digital awards in every major awards scheme, in every sector and market, from the PRWeek Awards to the Cannes Lions.

But I’ve realised that my clients who have the most success are the ones who are also more strategic in the way they enter awards:

  • They usually have one person who is responsible for awards
  • Awards are taken seriously as part of marketing activity
  • They are extremely organised
  • They have full buy-in and support from the senior team
  • They choose the campaigns they are going to enter carefully
  • They enter the most appropriate awards schemes from across the world.

How about approaching this from a new angle?

It’s really clear, from my experience, that simply being more rigorous in your approach to awards will fill the trophy cabinet in your lobby a lot quicker than rushing out last minute entries, however great the campaign and however beautifully written the entry.

So I’m sure you’ll want to be one of the first to get ahead of the competition and sign up to my new consultancy package.

My aim is to help you remove that last minute panic, and help PR professionals become more strategic, organised and better planned in their approach to entering awards schemes, to give you the greatest chance of success.

The comprehensive 12-month package includes

  • Review of awards success/entries over past year
  • One hour training webinar on how to write a winning entry (worth £895)
  • Two hour planning meeting to agree on schemes to enter for the year ahead and review core campaigns to enter
  • Creation of a bespoke calendar including all key deadlines for your chosen awards schemes
  • My awards tool kit and guidelines, including my Secret Formula for a successful entry (worth £895)
  • Provision of my master template, to be filled in at the start of awards season by the PR teams, that covers all the criteria for all major awards schemes, with pointers that the organisers won’t necessarily give you for a successful entry
  • Review of all master templates with tracked comments and suggestions for improvements (usually £120 per entry)
  • Full entry-ready editing of your first five entries over the year (worth £1,500)
  • Advice on supporting materials
  • Two-hour progress and planning meeting after six months to review successes and look ahead to the next six months.
  • Unlimited access to me by email for 12 months.

In essence, you’ll get access to all my experience, expertise, and resources for a whole year.

I’m the only awards consultant and editor specialising in the PR industry, and I’ll share everything I know about putting together a successful entry to put you on track for awards success in 2013-2014. And the cost? Just £5,947.

Let’s talk!

Email me now on majapawinskasims@gmail.com and let me know a good time to come in for a chat, or for me to give you a call. I’d love to talk to you about how I can help you win more awards for your outstanding client work.

Ten steps to sparkling marketing copy

April 17th, 2012 by Maja

I had a great time last night talking to the lovely people at the Horsley Business Network about copywriting, bringing together my experience as a journalist, a coach and a copywriter.

Most people leave the words on their marketing collateral – from websites to flyers – till last. I would argue that without great content – the words that sell your business and tell your story – there’s no point having a swanky design. Brilliant copywriting is a key way of ensuring your marketing collateral is working as hard as possible for you, and not putting off customers who don’t get what you are about and what you can do for them.

So here are Besparkle’s Ten Steps to Sparkling Marketing Copy…

1. VALUES

Before you even try and put pen to paper, I would recommend you establish your core values. If you’re running your own business, your personal values and your business values are likely to overlap. Values are attributes that you hold dear in your life, from integrity and service to innovation or creativity. With many of my copywriting clients, I start off by doing this classic coaching exercise (just email me on majapawinskasims@gmail.com for a free copy of this exercise). Once you’ve identified your top five or six values, they are a really useful benchmark when you’re producing written materials, to check that what you are communicating is in tune with what your business is really about at its heart. When you run your business – and talk about your business – in a way that is consistent with your values, you have what is called an authentic business. Authentic businesses tend to be successful because they are a genuine extension of who you are, your skills, and what you care about.

2. BRAND PERSONALITY, TONE AND STYLE

Add another layer of insight by defining your brand personality. You could work with some more coaching questions, such as:

  • What do you want to be known for?
  • What differentiates you, and your business, and makes you stand out from everyone else with a similar background, experiences and offer?
  • Imagine you are 80 years old. What would you want people to say about you and your professional achievements? What would you like your legacy to be? What would you like clients and employees who have worked with you over the years to say about you?

Then think about the voice of your business. Are you formal or informal; professional, friendly? Do you want to be seen as small and personal, or more corporate? This will inform what’s called the tone and style of the language you use in your written materials.

3. TARGET AUDIENCE

We’re still not ready to write. The next step is to define who you are talking to.

  • Who are your customers and clients now, and who do you want to be working with?
  • What do they need to know from you?
  • What problems do they have that you can solve for them?
  • What are your key sales messages for them?
  • What is the perceived quality and value of your brand in the minds of customers: are you the cheap solution, the good value for the money solution, the high-end, high-price tag solution?

4. YOUR MISSION STATEMENT.

One more step before we start drafting. I review a surprising number of websites where it’s not at all clear on the front page what the company does. I would suggest you make sure you are happy with, or write, a clear one or two sentence description of your business. Who are you and what do you do? Even if you have this sort of written boilerplate already, go back and review it after doing the values and brand personality exercises. You may also want to take another angle and think about how you would describe to a child, or your mum, what you do. Think in terms of using real language rather than the way you think your should describe what you do, or what everyone else in your sector says.

5. START WRITING!

Now you’re ready to start drafting your copy. Bearing everything you’ve defined and discovered about you and your business by going through the first four steps, you’ll hopefully end up with a first draft that sounds like it could only be about you and your business, and really communicates the experience of what it is like to work with you. Check your drafts against your values, brand personality, your chosen tone and style, and your boilerplate description.

6. EDIT OUT THE BULLSHIT

This is the bit I’m really passionate about. Go through your drafts or your existing marketing copy, and strip out all marketing bull and corporate jargon. Be honest about whether there is any way of expressing yourself more clearly or succinctly instead of the phrases you and your sector might always have used. Cut out meaningless words like ‘unique’, or ‘solutions’. Avoid generalisms that could be about any business: I received a press release this week that started ‘In the words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a changin’. I still have no idea what company it was for, or even what industry.

Use language carefully and precisely – well written copy is extremely powerful.

7. CLARITY

Check your second drafts for clarity. Would your child or you mum or best mate or gran understand what you’ve written? This isn’t about being simplistic or dumbing down: it’s about explaining clearly in a way that will resonate with your target audience. There is an argument that journalists on the Sun are more skilled than those on the Telegraph because it’s harder to explain tricky concepts in universally-understood language.

8. CONSISTENCY

Once you’ve established your house style and settled on a way of expressing what you do that feels right, check for consistency across all your marketing materials. Don’t produce a really chatty, cheeky special offer flyer if your website is very formal-sounding, for instance. This applies to social media as well: LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook count as written marketing collateral too, and your voice should be consistent across all of them.

9. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU

Focus on your customers and clients, not just on yourself. Check that every Tweet and every sentence in your website doesn’t start ‘I’ or ‘We’ – turn it around so you are showing your potential customers and clients what you can do for them. This links back to the point about defining your target audience and understanding what problems you are solving for them.

10. THE BASICS – GRAMMAR AND SPELLING

Proof what you’ve written and double check grammar and spellings. It might sound basic, but a misplaced apostrophe can put people off. Avoid capital letters other than at the start of sentences and for proper names. Write out numbers one to ten and write 11 and above in numerals. Get rid of any exclamation marks. Spell out any acronyms, especially the first time you use them, and keep them to a minimum. Read what you’ve said aloud and check it flows well and sounds right.

Finally, know when to stop editing – there comes a point where your drafts have to be good enough, and you just need to get that essential bit of your marketing arsenal signed off and winning business for you.

Top 5 tips for drafting PR award entries

September 1st, 2011 by Maja

Ah, the smell of autumn is in the air. In my world, this means one thing: the start of the new awards season for public relations consultancies and in-house teams. The annual round of schemes kicks off with the European Excellence Awards (deadline October 7, chaps, so get scribbling now).

I see hundreds of entry drafts every year for all the major PR awards schemes in the UK and Europe, and knock a gratifying number of them into award-winning shape. Some of my clients (she blushes) have called me the queen of awards. And so, my loyal subjects, I bestow upon you a gift. Completely gratis, here is the distillation of some of the most important stuff I’ve learned over a decade of writing and editing award entries. I give you my top five tips:

1. Select the right campaigns. Focus on topical, interesting, creative or unusual work. Think in terms of ongoing campaigns as well as defined projects. Bear in mind that big budget/big name campaigns do not automatically win prizes. Be honest: is the campaign a winner? And is it right for this awards scheme? Look at previous years’ winners to get a feel for what sort of campaigns the judges like.

2. Read the criteria. Follow the criteria. Stick to the rules. Meet the deadline. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to pull together an entry. Start early. Factor in time for client approval (ALWAYS get client approval).

3. Give the job to your best writer. Tell the judges a great story. Don’t lean too hard on lists of bullet points. Watch spelling and grammar. Avoid cheery exclamation marks, flannel, waffle, and marketing jargon. Proof, proof and proof again for typos.

4. Judges have dozens – if not hundreds – of entries to review for each awards scheme. Make sure yours really spells out why it is a winner. Don’t expect judges to read between the lines. Include enough background and market/industry context to help them understand why the campaign was required by the client and the communications challenges it posed for your team. Don’t be modest, but on the other hand do always give the client team credit: a true team effort is more attractive than an agency claiming they did everything.

5. State measurable business and communications objectives, and ensure the results section proves that every objective was met. Include as much evaluation data and evidence of the campaign’s success as possible, from an increase in sales to campaigns being embraced by stakeholders. Never use AVEs or rely solely on media measurement. Demonstrate the impact of the campaign on the client’s business or organisation. What did it mean in real human terms? Back up every grand claim.

Follow these golden rules and, assuming the campaign was brilliantly conceived and executed in the first place, you’ll be well on your way to picking up that shiny gong to display in your reception.

How well written is your website?

September 1st, 2011 by Maja

Let me ask you something. How well written is your website? Honestly? Do you suspect the copy isn’t working for your business? Are your customers are being put off by poor grammar and unclear messages?

Many small business owners get excited about working with a designer to build a great-looking website. And most leave the content – the words that sell the business and tell your story – until last.

The businesses I work with know their written content could be better, but don’t know where to start. They’re not sure the copy effectively communicates their business philosophy and marketing messages. They aren’t 100% confident about using language and grammar correctly, and just don’t have the time to learn all this from scratch.

Small businesses know their website is a critical and cost-effective communications tool. Brilliant copywriting is a key way of ensuring your online ambassador is working as hard as possible for you – and not putting off customers who don’t get what you are about and what you can do for them.

I’ve just launched a new product to give small businesses the benefit of my years of experience as a business journalist and corporate copywriter: the Besparkle Website Content Audit. You get:

* An assessment of how well your website content is working as a communications tool.
* Where changes need to be made to language, grammar, and spelling.
* How to improve readability, tone and style, and the clarity and consistency of messages.
* Recommendations of how page structure can be tweaked so the copy flows better.
* A checklist of what needs to be done, to work through in your own time.
* A 30-minute phone session on the phone to clarify points raised in the report.
* Email support for four weeks after your session.

The report, a 30-minute phone session PLUS four weeks’ unlimited email support will cost your business just £195.

After you’ve booked, I’ll send you a short questionnaire to help me tailor my recommendations. I’ll schedule your audit within two weeks, and email you the completed report. You can book a 30-minute phone session when you’re ready to talk it through, and four weeks of email support starts from when the report is sent to you. The result? Sparkling content that really sells your business and effectively communicates your brand personality.

To book a Website Content Audit, call Maja on 01483 561711 or email maja@be-sparkle.co.uk.

Falling back in love with your job in PR

September 1st, 2011 by Maja

It’s the great taboo: working in a creative business isn’t always creative. You may have chosen a career in public relations after being seduced by the idea that it’s glamorous and obviously highly creative. The gloss can wear off after years of working long hours in what is often a very stressful, process-driven environment. ‘I need it yesterday’ deadlines, demanding clients, being constantly on call (thanks, Blackberry!) and constant pressure on budgets can eventually contribute to low morale, creative drought, and dwindling performance and productivity.

There are many reasons why PR professionals lose their early passion for the business. When someone starts a career in PR they are very hands on, and always on the phone pitching to journalists. The danger point is when you move up through the ranks and become a manager, with responsibility for other people and a budget, and start wondering why you are in PR when you’re not actually doing much, well, PR.

Burn-out is another problem in such a fast-paced industry, particularly since technology now means we are on-call 24/7. It can feel like our employers own us, even at the weekends. The clearly-defined strata of job titles in most PR agencies may also contribute to feeling less than positive about work. People tend to be promoted because they’re great at their old job, not necessarily because they’re going to be great at the next one, and may not have all the support they need to excel out of their comfort zone.

Many PR bosses now realise that keeping their teams happy is not just a nice-to-have: it’s bottom-line critical. reducing the enormous costs of recruiting, training and settling in new people is a sound business reason for investing time and money in making sure employees are fulfilled and motivated. The PR industry has a notoriously high level of staff churn – many employers and employees assume that ‘people in PR move on every 18 months or so’ – but does this have to be the case?

In one of my previous incarnations as a life coach for the PR industry, I ran workshops to help PR professionals fall back in love with their job.  I used a variety of techniques and exercises to help knackered, disillusioned PR professionals to get their sparkle back. These included:

  • Remind yourself what why you went into the business in the first place. Write a list of the things you really love about the job, rather than indulging in moaning.
  • Articulate what your current job would look like if it was ideal in every respect, then make an action plan to identify the baby steps you can take now to get closer to that ideal. Take back your control.
  • Check your personal values are the same as the company you work for. If the things that really matter to you and the things that really matter to your employers don’t overlap, it’s probably time to find somewhere where you can be more authentically yourself and really flourish in your career.
  • If you feel you want to do something more worthy, you may be able to introduce a new element to your working life that is more closely aligned with your own values, such as adding some pro bono work for charities.

When valued employees have lost their mojo, employers can get them back onside by using the language of PR: repositioning or reinventing people in terms of the division they work for, their clients, their role, or the way they work. Flexibility counts for a lot. Sabbaticals can offer an opportunity to stand back and reflect away from the intensity of the workplace, and job swaps with other offices within the same organisation can give people some perspective on what they love about working for the company.

If you find yourself moaning about the job more than celebrating it, it may be time for a careful think about whether you are in the right business. If you want to stay in PR but need a bit of a boost, there are plenty of things that you can do to put the passion back. Just remember that no-one else can take responsibility for your experience of your own job.

It’s our birthday!

September 24th, 2010 by Maja

Besparkle is five years old this month, and we’re celebrating with a completely new look. What do you think? I love the new website design and logo created by the fab team at Flourish Studios in Guildford, who I think have really captured Besparkle’s personality. And I’m really pleased with my new musghots by the lovely Matt Pereira - the shoot was a real giggle. Thank you all!

When I launched the company in 2005 after a career as a business journalist (my last ‘proper job’ was as features editor of PRWeek) and then a freelancer, I knew I had a great proposition: a journalist-turned-copywriter who really got PR and would be a valuable asset to agency and in-house teams.

I had a solid (even award-winning!) background at Haymarket Publishing, breeding ground of some of the best non-newspaper hacks in the business. I’ve also always respected and liked working with PR professionals, unlike some journalists who still have the rather chippy idea that journalism is somehow nobler than PR, when actually the two professions are mutually dependent.

Five years on (and two kiddies later!) I’ve established Besparkle as a successful business. I work not only for PR teams around the world, but also for SMEs who need website and brochure copy that’s totally free of jargon and bull, sounds like them, and effectively communicates their messages to the people they really want to reach.

I’ve established a bit of a niche as the go-to copywriter for PR teams wanting to enter the numerous awards schemes for public relations work around the world, and I’m very proud to have drafted hundreds of shortlisted and award-winning entries that tell the compelling stories of some amazing PR campaigns every year.

So I’d like to thank all my clients over the past five years, from the world’s biggest PR consultancies to local business coaches. It’s often been a rollercoaster, sometimes frantic as deadlines approach, but always fun. Here’s to the next five years!

Why writing projects get stuck on ‘to do’ lists

August 11th, 2010 by Maja

Most PR professionals have at least one writing project on the go that they’ve been meaning to start or complete for ages, whether it’s a fresh batch of case studies, new website content, an updated credentials or presentation document, or that thought-leadership piece to make their company, organisation, brand or CEO look fantastic.

So why do these sorts of projects spend so long being moved from one to-do list to another, sometimes for months? Time is obviously a factor for busy PR professionals. Not knowing where to start, perhaps. Not feeling inspired to write something really creative, maybe.

Those are the usual reasons my clients in PR agencies and in-house teams give me. But there’s another factor that not everyone feels comfortable owning up to. Whisper it: most people can’t write.
OK, so everyone in the industry can obviously write to a certain extent. But few are completely fantastic writers. I know that some people are actually a bit scared of trying to write something perfect and professional-sounding at the first attempt. Most people aren’t naturals at using words in a creative way, and many aren’t even fluent in using words correctly. Grammar still makes many of us shudder, and I rarely see a first draft of anything from a client that doesn’t include a dodgy apostrophe, questionable spelling, or peculiar sentence structure.

But good copywriting, whoever your audience, isn’t just about using words properly. In doubt, desperation, or ignorance, people often resort to marketing speak and corporate bull, which does nothing to enlighten or inform. In fact, it often fogs the desired message completely.