Simon Armitage was more to me than a face in a GCSE textbook and, four years ago, in a desolate poetry workshop hosted at the Dean Walters building in Liverpool, he taught me the second most important lesson in creative writing… Continue reading
I’ve never seen a slit throat in real life (touch wood) but here’s why I think about what one looks like every single day,…,
I never realised how lucky I was to have studied under professional authors and poets, until about three months after graduation.
In my third year, Alicia Stubbersfield was my lecturer, who once read out the following extract as the perfect metaphor and I have never stopped trying to beat it since:
“His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat.”
It’s from Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and I’ll probably never come close to creating such powerful imagery,…,but in the last three years that I’ve been writing for the web, I’d like to think my copy has benefited from at least attempting to.
With Alicia’s voice in my head, like some sort of literary (and female) Obi Wan Kenobi, I am reminded to use the English language freely every time I sit down to write. Even if it takes a little longer to craft a screaming metaphor instead of a yawning adjective, it’s worth it for the satisfaction alone.
The Extended Metaphor
In the second year of the LJMU course, I was taught short fiction by Jim Friel, who showed me the extended metaphor.
What Wikipedia says:
An extended metaphor, also known as a conceit or megametaphor, is when an author exploits a single metaphor or analogy at length through multiple linked vehicles, tenors, and grounds.
I tried using this technique in a scene for my short story assignment that semester and I got a First for the piece – so I’m egotistically taking that as permission to show you it here. For context, the story is written from the POV of a suicidal, who works for his brother-in-law’s high-end hotel.
Warning! The language here gets a bit colourful…
‘Zippo?’ He branded me with the nickname after I gave him a light on my first day. He was wearing his buckled shoes. I knew Elaine had picked them out for him. ‘What the fuck? I mean really, what the fuck?’
I looked up; one of the hotel cleaners was buffering the marble floor at the back, like a lint roller on the lobby’s uniform collar. ‘I overslept.’
‘Where did you fucking oversleep exactly? Kuwait?’ It wore a red carpet tie, right down to the centre of the grand entrance, where we stood.
‘I overslept.’ The girls on reception, tucked in the top pocket, looked up like meercats.
He dragged me aside by the arm. ‘Listen you little prick, just because I married your sister, it doesn’t mean I have to put up with your shit. Don’t speak to me like I’m a dickhead in front of the others again. Hear me?’ Cockram was the silver name badge.
‘And I’m not having you looking like a wet newspaper in this lobby, so fuck off down the basement. You’re on cameras again with the Cripple.’
I was the stain.
That story was amongst the most depressing pieces of fiction I ever forged. Still, what Jim Friel taught me in just three months enabled me to shape this one extended metaphor and with that, I now have another weapon to use in my professional copywriting.
Metaphors in Copywriting
The extended metaphor can become the DNA of a page, linking everything together along a neat and complex string of description. The hotel setting lent itself to a uniform-themed metaphor and sometimes your subject matter helps you out in that respect (you can see another example from one of my first jobs in print copywriting here). Using metaphors in web content writing can be trickier, for a number of reasons:
- Subject matter can be awkward
- Your ‘fun’ as a writer can distract from the content’s purpose
- Audience isn’t always reading for enjoyment
The latter is the most challenging from this trio in my (still fledgling) opinion; copywriters are confronted every day with what I’m naming as the ‘Reader Gauntlet’…
Who are you writing a guest post for? Your client, the owner of the blog where you intend to place the piece or the reader?
It’s all three. With the last one being most important.
Like it or not, your client will have a certain tone of voice they want you to use, as will the blogger you’re guest posting for – so you can’t just go throwing metaphors about willy-nilly (I love that nan phrase), because you don’t really have a poetic license.
Still, I’d argue this only adds the demand for accuracy.
Before graduation, I’d used a metaphor in a short story which compared varicose veins to noodles. This was fairly (and uncomfortably) accurate in terms of how they looked, but one of the writers in the workshop suggested that noodles do not tend to be blue.
Until then, I hadn’t really understood the level of accuracy that readers will, not demand, but need when metaphors are used.
So the same goes for copywriting – only metaphors that are easy to understand really work. My advice is never to be proud of a metaphor because unless it’s near Angela Carter accurate, it’s likely that at least one party in the ‘Reader Gauntlet’ will have a problem with it.
Thanks for reading my stuff
Enrolling on that creative writing course wasn’t the most direct route to a career in marketing but I believe that degree is the one reason why I can (and love to) write long copy.
Alicia Stubbersfield and Jim Friel are not the only authors I owe my profession to; Sarah Maclennan, Janette Stowell, Aileen La Tourette, Gareth Creer and the late Edmund Cusick, all intimidated me enough to write well and taught me enough to do it for the rest of my life.
If you want to enrol on the course in Liverpool, click here around autumn time.
Every day’s a school day: German actor, Daniel Hoevels, accidentally slit his throat on-stage when performing a suicide scene. His prop knife turned out to be real but thankfully he survived the ordeal.
Ever bent a 15cm ruler until it snapped in your hands? It hurts loads.
Time to stop using our measuring tools in the wrong way – especially when it comes to social.
Here’s my breakdown of a CIPR event on Social Measuring and Evaluation hosted by Richard Bagnall in London last week.
Richard is one of those guys who can lock a tractor beam to your attention span for as long as he wants, purely by knowing his stuff. Think Professor Brian Cox on physics – Richard Bagnall is the same on PR, content and social engagement.
It’s fair to say I might have overdone it on the note-taking during his talk but I’ve simplified my scribblings here (kind of):
Moving away from the abacus
Counting is not measuring – not any more.
When RB began to talk about social measuring tools and their flaws, it got me thinking of that old problem with TV ratings; just like ratings never used to take into account households with two TVs, SMM tools don’t identify users interacting with content on multiple platforms,…,
,…,they count all interactions as if they’re coming from unique fingertips.
I am feeling ambitious so let’s pretend the Facebook button at the bottom of this post displays three ‘likes’.
This particular sharing button includes the FB shares and comments in its total count too – this could mean all three ‘likes’ effectively come from the same person.
I could have shared my post, liked it and, being an egotistical biff, I could have commented on it through Facebook as well,…,but still it would seem like three separate people had engaged with the post here.
This is one very basic example and there are much more accurate social sharing buttons out there (which I really should be installing), but the point can be applied across the board,…,
A reader who Tweets a link may also +1 it at the same time – does that mean you can justifiably say the associated content has reached more than one pair of eyes?
It’s also worth remembering how a RT does not necessarily mean another person has clicked, read and engaged with the content to which it links.
It works in the opposite direction too, as more than one person could be viewing the content on the same screen.
Richard Bagnall was in no way discrediting the usefulness of tools for social analytics, I took his point as an underlining of how they are not enough – not when it comes to measuring engagement anyway.
More on what Bagnall thinks on quantitative metrics can be found here.
Manual is the only way to go
I’ll be honest, I was hoping the CIPR session might have revealed a single tool which could monitor social engagement to such a credible level, that I could come away and start automating some belter reports for my online content. I was wrong.
Instead, I was indirectly told to stop looking for shortcuts and start investing some of my time into real measurement. Bagnall enlightened me to how manual research is the only way.
Just as a heads up, the Social Analytics Chrome extension is cool. It’s not ‘the answer’ but it can be useful.
How to Measure Social Media Engagement
First, the client’s social media campaign objectives and KPIs need to be aligned with those of the overall business; increasing sales, traffic, brand-awareness, knowledge etc.
This is where that 15cm ruler comes back into play – and breaking it into pieces is not so bad an idea after all.
Richard explained that social media does not exclusively belong to PR and in order to measure SM, we need to fragment the entire measuring exercise and assign the shrapnel to different business objectives:
- Brand Exposure
Opportunities to see (impressions)
Share of conversation
Number of links
Likelihood to recommend
Which out of this quartet of social media shiznit interests you the most?
I guess that depends on your position within an organisation.
As a copywriter, I like the engagement side of things but if you’re a board director, you probably just want to focus on Number 4. Either way, it all needs to be taken into account for the most accurate and useful measurement of social media.
A lot of this is already measured by online marketers – just ask any SEO working on a month-end report. Still, breaking it up into more manageable sections, using different measuring tools for each and sending the sectioned results to the relevant people, makes a lot of sense to me.
So, we need a whole pencil case of measuring apparatus in order to capture the true social impact of our content. But where and when do we stop measuring?
Bagnall highlighted how before digital, a PR company could simply add up the press cuttings from a certain day or week, to measure the success of their copy.
Now, a blog is permanent and can be shared online over a series of weeks, months or even years. Measuring the success of something that is not time-bound can get kind of tricky.
What I gathered from RB’s speech and this particular point, was that we cannot judge the social impact of a solitary piece of content accurately enough within a week, we can only review, compare and contrast all the different metrics, for all the different pieces of content, using all the best social measuring tools and manual quarrying, after a longer period of time – campaign-long or at least quarter-long.
The challenge here is that clients, particularly when it comes to PR, want instant feedback and results.
I suppose it depends on the strength of your relationships with clients, whether you can persuade them to get on-board with a long-ball analytics programme and whether you have the resource to manually look into social interaction with your content.
My wide-eyed advice – get hold of that resource no matter what and make time to bend your ruler to a snap, because what is the point in your copywriting if you cannot monitor, adapt and justify it in the right way, to the right people, at the right time, through the right medium, to achieve your own objectives?
What do you think? I’d love to get some views on this from a variety of marketing roles. Drop your thoughts in a comment and I’ll get back to you.