In-house recruiters often agonise over the extent to which they should ‘be themselves’ when writing an ad. What’s the balance between the ‘personal’ and the ‘corporate’? There are some definite ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ when writing any communications – but it’s reassuring to know that, just like design, copy is subject to the personal tastes and preferences of the writer, the mindset of the target audience – and the purpose of the ad itself.
Researching what you’re going to Write.
Before immersing yourself in writing a recruitment advertisement you should be aware of your ‘corporate story’ (if you have one) – so become conversant with any Brand Guidelines and Tone of Voice documents that have been created by your Marcomms team. If you’re lucky enough to have these, they will give you a steer on the overall corporate messaging and possibly a ‘business vocabulary’ that can be incorporated when you’re writing an ad.
However, a guide is just a guide, not a template. It’s something to be used – or not used – judiciously. It may be, for example, that your Corporate Guidelines have not been constructed to include your recruitment communications, so you need to choose what ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be included, depending on your target audience and what you want your ad to achieve. That’s why researching your organisation’s latest facts, figures, news and updates can often be the best possible source of information for your ad. Something highly current – team achievements, new products and services, industry awards, record profits, highest-ever NPS – could be the most interesting and relevant thread to the storyline you need to create to capture your audience. So take and use whatever’s available ‘right now’ to “sell” the proposition to the candidate of your dreams.
Given the fact that your ad is a platform for a story rather than a straight jacket for your salesmanship, you’re not necessarily disadvantaged if you don’t have an existing set of parameters. In fact, in a fast-changing world where even our language is evolving, every recruitment ad informs the corporate story. So you can ‘be yourself’ and write in a style that’s natural for you – remembering that grammar is important (more of that in a minute), profanity is usually a no-no and the AIDA model works best.
The Personal vs The Corporate.
Language changes every year and in turn, so does grammar. The only time we ever really hear about it is when something controversial is added to the dictionary, like ‘lol’, but it happens far more often than we realise.
Likewise, there are often two (correct) spellings of a word and more than one execution of a punctuation rule. And those rules change in the context of a sentence, the style it’s written in and the medium it’s intended for. We should always remember that we’re writing a one-to-one communication (between You and The Candidate), not a legal document.We have to be interesting. An ad should be a joy to read, so we don’t need to be intense in our writing style or our use of grammar. We can be colloquel and conversational – and we should never kill an ad by making it read like a T&C section. So. Every. Single. Word. Matters.
Of course it’s important to know the rules of grammar. But when you’re writing an ad, it’s also important to know how and when to play with them. You can bend the rules if it enhances understanding or clarity. As long as the message is communicated clearly to your target audience, in a language that engages with them and doesn’t smash to smithereens the boundaries of your brand.
There are examples of this everywhere around us. Apple’s “Think Different” should, strictly speaking, say: “Think Differently”. But it wouldn’t be anywhere near as memorable, would it? McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” should read: “I am loving it.”, but that would take away all the personality of a strapline that’s working across the world. And many an English Language teacher must despair at Honda Civic’s “To each their own” – but where’s the charm in a line that says: “To each his/her own”?
We all have a tone of voice, whether we realise it or not. Accents aren’t limited to the spoken word. Each of us has subtle habits, preferences and tendencies that we project onto the written word. Some people excess in use of the exclamation mark. Others are addicted to the semi-colon. Many of us veer all too readily to the bullet point. The simple question is: Does It Work?
It either works. Or it doesn’t.
Ultimately, creative copywriting creates the right response. It either attracts the ‘right’ people or it doesn’t. So your style, vocabulary and punctuation is great as long as it works. Copy is sales and you’re the salesperson. So your copy needs to sell. It’s the difference between:
The best software opportunity you’ll ever have…
The best software opportunity you’ll ever have.
The best software opportunity ever.
The best software opportunity, ever.
The best software opportunity. Ever.
The best software opportunity you’ll EVER have!
BEST. SOFTWARE. OPPORTUNITY. EVER.
BEST software opportunity you’ll EVER have!!
Simply apply now!!
Adding a comma or a full stop in a single sentence makes a huge difference in terms of impact and tone of voice. And choosing the right words changes the game. It’s not about avoiding mistakes. It’s about making a judgement call, because as a copywriter, your job is to match a voice to a message. And fortunately, there’s a tried and tested method for sense-checking your ad.
Sense-checking your Writing.
The human brain does an unusual thing when we read our own words back, especially immediately after they’ve been written. Our verbal memory knows what is supposed to come next, and fills it in – with our brains subconsciously predicting the next word (and any grammar) as we mentally hop and skip through the copy.
We may think we’ve read it, but our brains are filling in gaps, whether the words we think we’re reading are on the page or not. That’s why the general rule is that you should wait at least 24 hours before proofreading your own ad.
If you don’t have 24 hours to wait – or even if you do – try reading aloud your copy. You’ll begin to hear what you’ve really written. Then read it out loud for a second time. This is more powerful if you can read it to a colleague; and more effective still if your colleague understands the candidate you are trying to attract and the proposition you are trying to sell.
Next time your hard-pushed brain has to construct a compelling piece of candidate communications, try the AIDA model – writing on-brand and in your own style.