Category Archives: Write for Results

‘Layering’: a new take on structure

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In my book and in my workshops, I assert that structure is more important than language. No matter how wonderful your writing is, if the whole document is ill-structured and un-navigable, you’re likely to lose your reader.

Try this for size.

Create a hierarchy: headline – sub-heading – topic sentence – (meaty) paragraph OR WiT (Word in Tables).

Your headline is your big picture, a hint to the content and a hook for the reader. The sub-heading is (or should be) a descriptive, informative summary of that document section. Then you open a meaty para with a topic sentence that’s an emboldened, one-line summary of that para. Simple as. Here’s an example:

PROJECT ABC: what progress did we make in January 2017?

This document sets out an update from our last meeting and some initial research on our latest Project ABC target, XYZ.

Update from our 12 December 2016 meeting

I believe our Project ABC methodology works well. I understand PPR is actively pursuing Target Inc. This was one of the names that the new methodology helped us identify in Project ABC — the AIM-listed work I did with Roger in Q3 2016. I suggest we look at HSA as a priority; Roger is helping me with this.

I have pulled together a team for project ABC. Roger, Debbie and Paul have agreed to help with this initiative in some capacity, subject to other work commitments. While Debbie will help Roger with AIM and FTSE company identification, Paul will help me with our leveraged loan list. We may need another admin assistant later on, but for now we’re OK.

[ Then, if you have even more detail, you can put that into Words in Tables, developed by Jon Moon who offers downloadable templates here. ]


Why we selected XYZ as a target

The loan is trading below par XYZ’s TLB is currently trading at 87.75p in the pound on the secondary market. The 2nd lien piece is trading at 70p. This suggests that lenders hold some concerns over performance and that there has been some value erosion. The situation is not too bad, however, given level of discount on the loan, which means we could be an early mover.
Leverage is high Q3 leverage was 4.5x, albeit down from 7.7x in FY15. This is higher than opening leverage and lease-adjusted leverage is reportedly even higher. FX Partners did a dividend recap in 2014 to take 33% of equity off the table, so any restructuring might have heightened tension between the stakeholders.
Financial performance is behind budget Revenue was 3% behind budget in Q3; EBITDA was 25% behind for the same period. Moody’s downgraded the company to Caa1 in February 2016. 2015 had negative cash flow.
This is a good size company There are more levers to pull and more opportunity for finance (debt and equity) with a larger company. EV at purchase was EUR 343 million, 3rd biggest in the world in its field, biggest in Europe.
We know the sponsor well We have many contacts with TTT partners; attached is the Zapier download. As you mentioned last week, Dev has done some work for TTT on Cato Ltd in the past, as well as DD on STA and BY&F. We have done some German/pan-European work with them for a clothing manufacturer.

What are the benefits of ‘layering’? Your reader can choose what level of your document to read:

  1. Headline only
  2. Headline + sub-headings
  3. Headline + sub-headings + topic sentences
  4. Headline + sub-headings + topic sentences + detailed content

Layering also makes it quicker and easier for your reader to find the relevant stuff and skip the rest. They’ll love you for it.

Time is running out for you…

By | Rhetorica, Write for Results | No Comments

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…to get on my next open course, 23 Feb, central London. This is a sales writing course for all-comers over one day. I’ll be strutting my stuff on the 21 rhetorica ® writing techniques.

This course will show you how to write with personality, persuasion and power, but the early-bird discount closes in a few days. Plus we’re offering 20% off for bookings of three or more. Here’s that link again.

rhetorica® — a toolkit of 21 everyday writing techniques

By | Rhetorica, Write for Results | No Comments

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My book on persuasive writing has been getting some rave reviews. One poor deluded soul even put me in the same class as HW Fowler, Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots & Leaves) and Stephen King. (Clearly, the bung was worth it.)

I’m now on a mission to take the book and its 21 techniques to an audience way beyond B2B — to young people and students, as well as non-English speakers who work and write in English. It seems to me there’s a huge gap between the basic spelling & grammar taught in primary schools and the increasingly sophisticated writing demanded in secondary and tertiary education. The cliché is that ‘English writing skills are caught, not taught’. Reading Dickens, Shakespeare and Jane Austen — much as I love ‘em — won’t necessarily make you a good writer. As I say in my book, writing well is neither a black art nor an innate gift, but a learnable skill.

If you happen to have any senior contacts in education wherever you are, pls introduce them to me. Thanks. (And if you want to join my mission, get in touch!)

Finally, pls diarise 30/31 March for the official launch of the discounted Kindle version (£0.99/$0.99) of the book. All proceeds will go to the two charities I’m supporting: Blind Veterans UK and the Type Archive, a unique collection of 3 million typefaces, fonts and historic printing presses. Both organisations do amazing work and need all the help they can get; I’m just doing my bit for them.

‘Commitment’ and the epidemic of jargon

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“As a premium supplier in healthcare products, our commitment to the highest standards of safety is unparalleled.” [Yeah, right.]

“We are committed to providing you with world-class service…” [Prove it.]

“I am committed to losing two kilos by Easter” [But you probably won’t…]

Forgive my square bracketed cynicism…

January air is thick with words like ‘resolution’, ‘goal’ and ‘objective’ as we gird our New Year loins to be better human beings — or just lose weight. And hard on the heels of this aspirational language is the ever-present ‘commit’.

Let’s look at this abused, over-used word.

‘Commit’ goes way back. Six hundred years, actually.

From the Latin committere, to join, unite or connect, it originally meant to ‘charge in trust, to entrust a task to someone’s care’. This is about giving someone a duty with scant freedom of action. To commit is to make a binding pledge — to ourselves or to others — to a cause, course of action or set of values. It’s an obligation.

When you’re truly committed, there’s no turning back.

From that we get the idea of literally consigning someone to prison or a mental institution, or a body to the earth (‘committal’), or figuratively, as in ‘commit to memory/paper/writing’. We also have the idea of perpetration, as in ‘commit a sin/crime’ or ‘commit suicide’.

So ‘commit’ is not some flippant, fly-by-night, flibbertigibbet of a word. It’s serious, charged with centuries of obligation and responsibility. Let’s not cheapen it and trivialise it by turning it into business jargon to flog products or services.

If your service is genuinely world-class, your customers will be screaming it from the digital rooftops. And if it’s not, stop telling us you want it to be. Here endeth the lesson.

Post script. This is my favourite quote on commitment, from WH Murray, the celebrated mountaineer, author and soldier:

Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.

Concerning all acts of initiative or creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans…that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves. too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have believed would have come his way.

Whatever you think you can do or believe you can, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it. Begin it now.”

New Write for Results branding: coming full circle (even though it’s a diamond)

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I’ve ditched the bland ‘SJK Consultants’ — it never really did it for me — and gone back to my original brand of Write for Results (W4R), but with a new logo.

I co-founded W4R in 2004 with Andy Maslen, a top copywriter, and for eight happy years we trained several blue-chip clients in writing skills, including staff of The Economist Group. In 2012 Andy decided to devote himself to his copywriting (and latterly novel writing), leaving me with the company.

Phil Cleaver and his team at et al design created and typeset the new diamond-shaped logo.