Is that project really worth taking on?

When I started Copy with Cream 20 years ago, I said ‘yes’ to every project. I desperately wanted to build up my copywriting business and develop a reputation in Adelaide with advertising agencies, web developers, government departments, large business, small business, err… just about everybody.

Cut to 2 years later
I was really busy and very stressed. Partly because I was saying ‘yes’ to everybody. I distinctly remember the turning point. I had given a potential client a reduced quote, because I was keen to get their business. By return email, he advised that I could have the job, but next time could I please sharpen my pencil. It took me a minute to work out what he meant. His lovely comment was exactly what I needed to bring me to my senses.

I needed a better plan
I can’t for the life of me remember who I was whinging to over coffee one day, but they said to me ‘well, you sound like you have a bit of a formula there.’ I do? What did I just say? Quick! Where’s my pen and paper? I immediately wrote it down and over the years this little formula has saved me from many a sleepless night worrying about whether I should take on a project or not.

My 3 out of 4 rule
In an ideal world, every job would be 4 out of 4 but I’m a reasonable woman, so 3 out of 4 will do just fine. Here are my 4 criteria…

  1. Nice people
  2. Fun job
  3. Good money
  4. Fits my schedule.

In my experience, the projects that ended up going pear-shaped were usually done on a shoe-string budget (breaking Rule 3) and were always needed ‘yesterday’ (breaking Rule 4). Once I started following my 3 out of 4 rule, life became a helluva lot easier.

If the job was a bit boring, but for really nice clients that were happy to pay and the job fit my schedule, cool. If the client didn’t have a lot of money but it was a fun job and they were happy to let me fit their project in between my other work, great.

Now I’m not one for a lot of rules (which is probably why I work for myself) but some rules really are worth having.  🙂


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An important part of branding often overlooked — service

I have 4 cafés within walking distance of my home office. Lucky me, you might think. But I don’t go to any of them. Instead, I get into my car and drive 5 minutes to my favourite cafe, A Café Etc at Jetty Road, Brighton. Referred to as ‘The Marilyn Café’ by locals, it’s in the thick of the café strip that’s sprung up in the past decade, which has made Jetty Road, Brighton a very viable alternative to Jetty Road, Glenelg.

So why do I go past 4 cafés?
Before I go into my little rant — and at the very real risk of losing a fair proportion of my readers — I should let you know that I am gluten free. For those nay-sayers, yes, it’s a real thing…

Like most people who go to a café, I like to have a nice little something to have with my cup of green tea. Just a little biscuit. No big deal. You would think. But even though GF (gluten free) has been around for quite a few years now, it’s still overlooked by some establishments.

Ok, so here we go. A dissection of those 4 cafés…

Café Number 1 is more like a kiosk. No matter how many times I used to go there with my friend who insisted we go there, and asked ‘do you have anything gluten free?’ they said no. They also take ABsolutely AGes to make your cuppa, while you have to stand there, trying to stop yourself from falling asleep.

Café Number 2 do bring your cuppa to you, (woohoo!) however they don’t have anything much GF. However, they do have 4 or 5 things in their display cabinet that list all of the ingredients in them. Which you’d think would be really helpful, except that after spending what seems like 5 minutes reading the small print, you discover that after all that, none of them are GF. Their young staff look like they would die if they cracked a smile and make it seem like a big favour they are doing you, even looking at you and grudgingly saying ‘yes?’ Gee, sorry to inconvenience you by coming in and contributing to your salary.

Café Number 3 has tons of rich cakes, none of them marked GF. When I ask, they need to go consult with the chef, and finally do come back with something from their dessert menu (but not in their cabinet) that is too big, too rich and costs nearly 10 bucks. I’d have to wait 10 minutes to get it and yada, yada, yada, it’s just all too hard.

Café Number 4 has a few GF options but they are not marked, so I have to ask. Every time. The owner is really, really grumpy so I hate to ask. Intead, I just don’t go there.

How to improve business without spending a cent
I’m doing myself out of business here, because I help people with their advertising, but I need to be honest. Here goes. I think there are way too many cafés around. They can’t all be making good money. They won’t all last. So, if you own a café or know someone who does, let them know there are quite a few things they can do to improve their business without spending a cent.

Note 1 to café owners — let me sit down
I am happy to pay extra for the privilege of sitting down and you bringing me the cuppa. Thankyou very much. And I am sure that I am not alone with this preference.

Note 2 to café owners — have something gluten free
GF has been around for quite a few years now, but some café owners have seemingly never heard of it. I’m not asking for much. You don’t have to whip up a gluten free kitchen at the back of the premises. Go down to the local Foodland, buy a packet of GF biscuits for 4 bucks, then charge us $1 per biscuit. I would be quite happy with that, and you would make a profit. Not rocket science.

Note 3 to café owners — please label it
If you do have anything GF, please label it. Don’t make us ask all the time and then confuse us with saying ‘this one, this one, not that one, this shelf etc’ Don’t you get sick of us asking all the time? Make it easy. For us and for you. Thankyou.

Note 4 to café owners — smile
A smile goes a long, long, long way. I would take a smile over experience, efficiency or cost. If you and your staff cannot smile, maybe you’re in the wrong business. Do yourself a favour and find something to do that you love. You’ll live longer, too. Don’t get me wrong, I know how hard it is to work in the service industry — I used to do it. The operative words there are ‘used to’.

Note 5 to café owners — don’t make me yell
I have left a café more than once when my friend and I realised that we couldn’t hear each other over the music. I think there is a great opportunity for someone in hospitality (not me, please see Note 4, above) to start up a chain of Quiet Cafés or Sanctuary Cafés. No shouty music and check your mobile at the door. I’d love it.

Note 6 to café owners — don’t buzz me
I was recently highly amused to see that a café (part of a chain, and no, not Cibo) has brought in the buzzer thing. Which means you make yourself comfortable just in time to get buzzed so that you have to get up again and go and get your coffee and cake. The thing that I found absolutely hysTERical is the location of this café. Inside a posh retirement complex. Yes. Whatever genius thought that it was a good idea to make older people with pacemakers, hip replacements and arthritis get up to get their own coffee is a… well, I’ll let you fill in the blank.

Well, I think that’s quite enough whinging from me. If you have a café whinge, or alternatively, if you establish a Quiet Café, please do let me know. I would love to hear from you.



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Standing out from the crowd is a risk

In yesterday’s Opinion piece in Adelaide’s Advertiser, Rex Jory was lamenting about the lack of true eccentrics in South Australia. He was mainly referring to politicians, but his article really struck a chord with me as it could easily apply to business. Rex writes,

“It is easy to bury yourself in the main pack… so we choose to stay safe.”

But taking the safe option is also a risk
As a copywriter, I work with many different business owners, helping them get their message out there in the most clear, concise, interesting words I can find. And in unique and unusual ways that will stand out from the crowd, attract attention and reach their target audience. I am always encouraging my clients to push the envelope, be different from their competitors and I find I often get a helluva lot of push-back.

People say they want to be different, to stand out from the crowd, but when it really comes down to it, they often succumb to their shyness or their fear. That biological built-in sense of belonging we have as human beings is very strong and exerts a pull in the opposite direction. So they often end up with advertising or design that looks not very much different from their competition.

A stand-out idea
Many times, my fabulous ideas for these clients get relegated to ‘the bottom drawer’, which is where creatives’ ideas go to die. Sometimes a client will trust me and they run with it, usually with great success. Sometimes I can pull an idea out of that bottom drawer years later, dust it off, tweak and change and adapt it and it gets used by another one of my clients. Rarely, though.

So I was rapt to see this great example of being different and standing out from the crowd, last week at Jetty Road, Brighton. This café strip has become my local hangout most afternoons. It gets me out of my home office, and into the real world. Most days, the tables and chairs are mainly full of retirees, plus some mums treating their kids to an after-school treat, but last week, one patron stood out from the rest.









The best ideas are usually very simple
Marco’s laptop caught my eye. Well, with that Harris Real Estate pink, you can’t really miss it! It’s like a mini-mobile-billboard. So, I grabbed my camera, introduced myself and asked if I could take a photo. He was totally up for it and we had a great chat, and did the card swap as well.

Real estate people aren’t really known for their shyness but Marco did tell me that he’s actually the only one at Harris who has a laptop sign like this. What a great ice-breaker! It’s led to many a business card being handed out and many a conversation over a cup of coffee with people who’d previously been strangers, who now know who Marco is and could potentially become a client.

Marco’s mini-billboard? I reckon it’s a winner. And I bet it cost a lot less than that ad for Up & Go…

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Oscars stuffup caused by bad typography?

 A client of mine sent me a link this week to an article written by Benjamin Bannister. The picture above is from that article and there’s a link to the full article at the end of this post, but the gist of it is this. Good typography (type design) could have saved the day.

Unfortunately, the problem is usually invisible
The problem is that good typography is a bit like good design and good writing. You don’t really notice it unless it’s not there. Unless it’s bad design, bad writing or bad typography.

Bad design includes product design
I never noticed how good my smoothie stick mixer thingy was until it broke and I thought I’d just buy a cheapie one for 20 bucks. Wow. The cord wound up around itself like a python, the handle was slippery and a funny shape so it wasn’t easy to hold, the button was in the wrong place, it was just really awkward to use. Never really fully appreciated that good design until I lost it.

Good writing is effortless to read
So effortless, you don’t even notice it. On the other hand, you notice bad writing when you just can’t read a blog post, a web page, a brochure or a novel. Most people don’t bother to employ a professional writer to write their website. Because anybody can write. Right? The results of bad writing aren’t really that obvious until you realise your website isn’t working for you, even though you’re on page 1 and get thousands of hits. But no buys.

Which brings me to typography and the Oscars stuffup
Nobody much, except good graphic designers and typographers (if there are still any around, it’s one of those beautiful dying arts) notice it. And unless it’s for a huge sign, who cares, right? Well, the photo above should illustrate the difference between good and bad typography. And, well, we all know what happened at the Oscars.

Now, in the big scheme of things, nobody died. In fact, I often thank my lucky stars that I am fortunate enough to be in job where if I do happen to make a mistake, the worst case scenario is that an apostrophe would be in the wrong place. As opposed to a bus driver, who if they made a mistake maybe somebody dies. But enough about death. Back to typography.

So why does a copywriter care so much about typography?
Before I became a writer, I did a graphic design course which included typography studies. I love the beauty of good design and well-designed type. But it’s also about getting the message across properly. Because…

What’s the use of great words if nobody reads them?
Much of my work is writing for a client, or editing their existing web content. But another part of what I do is to help make sure that the content is presented in a way that will increase the chance that it will be read. Here are 3 ways that the words on a website can be improved without changing them!

  1. Create subheadings to lead the reader through. Like I’ve done above.
  2. Highlight the main points — often gems of information are buried in reams and reams of unimportant blurb.
  3. Organise the information on your website so that when people click on a menu item, they get what they’re looking for.

If you need help with any of the above, give me a call. Karen, Copy with Cream on 0412 322 982. We can probably get to the core of the issue in a simple brainstorming session.

A link to the full article by Benjamin Bannister.
Why typography matters especially at the Oscars


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The best advertising I’ve seen in a while

Advertising isn’t always about flogging stuff. Sometimes it’s about getting a life-and-death message across to the general public. This television commercial for CFS, SA Country Fire Service, does it brilliantly.

Strong visual? Use simple words
When the visual is so strong, you don’t need strong words, they would just fight with the imagery. The best words to use are simple ones, or none at all, as in this case. There are no spoken words. None are needed.

A classic love song used well
The 30 second TVC uses simple imagery of a country town, and dramatic footage of out of control bush fires. For the sound track, we hear a young female voice wistfully singing the 1970 classic love song, Our House from Crosby Stills Nash and Young.

I think it’s genius
The shocking contrast between the vision of the raging bush fires and the gentle rendition of that sweet little love song just stops you in your tracks. I think this ad really cuts through all the ‘noise’ and I very much hope it works.

May your Christmas and summer holidays be happy and safe. Karen.



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Clear advertising messages get results



Does your advertising look like this sign?

A few years ago, I heard a comedian who was visiting Adelaide talk about our crazy parking signs. I’d previously assumed that every city had crazy parking signs just like this. Maybe not. But whether they do or they don’t, I thought this sign was a great example of trying to get way too many different messages across all at once. Which just doesn’t work. Clear advertising messages get results. As a freelance copywriter who helps other business owners with their advertising, I see many people trying to get a lot of messages across all at once and confusing the audience completely. But I get it. It’s understandable.

When you have a lot of products or services to explain, it’s tempting to try to do it all. For example, when you have the undivided attention of someone at a networking function who’s just asked you what you do, it’s extremely tempting to try to cram as much into your elevator pitch as you possibly can. Same with the signage for your business. Or a billboard. Or your brochure. Or the front page of your website. Unfortunately, it just creates confusion.

What’s your main message?
Whenever I get a new client, I ask them some questions. Including, who is your target audience? (Everybody.) and what is your one, most important, single-minded message? (Everything.) You may laugh, but I really do hear this a lot. Then it’s my job to interview the client, find out all about his business and try to get to the bottom of all the information to find that one clear single-minded message.

Here’s a great example of one clear, focused message
It’s for the Adopt a Greyhound program run by When I saw their ad on the back of a bus the other day, it really stood out from the run-of-the-mill ads we see thousands of, every day. It cut through. Which is what you want your message to do. If you need help doing this, please call me on 0412 322 982. I’d be happy to help you. Karen 🙂








P.S. I moved my car.



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HEADLINES — UPPER CASE or not? Full stops or not?

A client of mine, Jeremy Lomman of SOS Interim, writes to me every now and then with suggestions for blog posts. I welcome this as after 150 of them, I sometimes wonder what I could possibly haimgres-1ve left to say! Recently, he’s sent me a couple of emails about headlines. He asks the question “Should a headline be in upper case?” Sure it attracts attention, but now that we have emails and texting, IF SOMETHING IS IN ALL CAPITALS, IT MEANS YOU ARE SHOUTING. AND NOBODY WANTS TO BE YELLED AT.

But what about legibility?
Now, I’m not generally a fan of a lot of capital letters, and haven’t ever been, even before it became known as shouting. My reason is that while it may grab your attention, a bunch of capital letters is much harder to read than lower case letters. I came across this interesting fact when I worked in my first copywriting job at The Advertiser’s Creative Department. My job was to write (or fix) press ads for clients who didn’t have an ad agency. Our department had 5 graphic designers and me as their first copywriter. Plus our boss. This was in the good old days, the early 90s, when newspapers ruled.

Before I realised I was really a copywriter, I was studying graphic design at Croydon TAFE. Typography was one of the subjects and while I totally hated rendering the entire Greek alphabet by hand (thanks Laurie) it did give me a great appreciation and real understanding of type, different typefaces, their structure, design, beauty and legibility. Sadly, computers have made it all too easy to just bung in 5 different typefaces, distort them all to fit and voila! everyone’s a graphic designer. But sorry, I digress. Back to upper case in headlines…

A press ad from the 90s tells this story
While at The Advertiser, I came across a full page (broadsheet size) ad for the Newspaper Advertising Bureau of Australia. It had been created by Jack Vaughan and Rob Tomnay from Campaign Palace, a Sydney advertising agency. I still have a photocopy of this ad, today. They talked about the ideal layout of a press ad, the best places for headlines, logos, pictures, long copy and short copy, also various typefaces and their legibility. And whether the headline should be in upper case or not. Here’s what they had to say…

‘One school of thought argues that capital letters in headlines achieve more impact. But the eye is presented with A SERIES OF SOLID TRIANGLES AND RECOGNISING WORDS BECOMES A TASK INSTEAD OF A NATURAL PROCESS.’

Test it out for yourself
The human eye finds it much harder to read all capitals than it does lower case text. There’s even a test you can try for yourself — cover up the bottom half of a line of lower case text and see if you can read it. Bet you can. Then, try the same thing with a line of upper case text. Bet you can’t lol.

And while we’re on this topic, I am reminded of something that appears to have become flavour of the month recently. Initial caps. Which Means That Every Word in The Headline Has a Capital Letter. This slows down reading. Which you don’t want. You want your headlines and copy (text) to be easy to read, not difficult. I have had a discussion about this with an SEO guy I know and he reckons AdWords and Google loves it. Ok, but I’m not so sure that people do. And when we’re writing for the online medium, we need to cater for bots and humans.

What about full stops at the end of a headline?
Jeremy commented that this seems to be a new thing. He asks,‘‘when did it become trendy to not end a sentence with a full stop? What are the rules?’’ Well, I have deliberately NOT been putting a full stop at the end of a headline for over 20 years, ever since I read Confessions of an Advertising Man, David Ogilvy’s famous book on advertising. David Ogilvy was widely considered to be the father of advertising and this book was considered to be the advertising bible. The 2012 paperback edition gets 4.5 stars on Amazon — not bad for a book that was first published in 1963.


I remember reading that David Ogilvy said ‘‘full stops stop people reading’’ so don’t use them in the headline. Evidently he commissioned some research to see if a headline was better with or without the full stop. Here is an article about that, if you’d like to see the results and I also found the comments from the participants of the study very interesting. The research showed that no full stop is better.

But what do you think?
I strongly suspect (English) teachers will have a problem with no full stops. Graphic designers would probably prefer no full stops because it looks better. Very occasionally, one of my clients insists on the full stop. I make sure I tell them about the research but it’s their website so they get to decide. If you have a strong opinion about all capitals or full stops, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

P.S. There are no full stops at the end of headlines in the newspapers. Food for thought…


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Quiet out there? Make a noise!

Keeping brand awareness high is important to every business. But whenever an election is called, things go a little strange in the business world. People stop spending, hold their breath and wait. I understand the caution but too much cutting back can be detrimental to your business.

The first thing most businesses cut back on tends to be their advertising and marketing — which leaves the field wide open for those who are savvy enough to keep their brand out there in the marketplace so their customers don’t forget them. Customers not spending? They will return. But…

Who will they buy from when they do?
I’ve written about this before in an old blog post but it’s definitely worth repeating. There’s an old story from the U.S. that demonstrates how one company changed the playing field completely, during one of the toughest times in the 20th century…

During Prohibition in the 1920s, you could only buy alcohol on the black market. But despite them not being able to make any sales at all, there was one company who kept advertising. Johnnie Walker. People laughed and told them that they were wasting their money. But Johnnie Walker just kept on advertising. Of course, the law eventually changed and alcohol was able to be sold again, legally. Once people started buying, guess which brand they bought?

The brand that had been kept top of mind.
Johnnie Walker. Because they didn’t cut or stop their advertising, they’d kept their brand alive and visible which enabled them to get ahead of the others and dominate the market when things turned around. Meanwhile, their competition had to start again from scratch.

So yes, I understand that if times are a bit lean, by all means we need to budget — just make sure you don’t disappear. Find smart ways to keep your brand and your message out there, so that the moment things turn around it will be your name that’s top of mind. And in case you need some assistance coming up with clever ideas that don’t have to cost an arm and a leg, please let me know. I’d love to help you. Karen 🙂 0412 322 982


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Writing rules kill freedom of expression

StressedStudentReading Nikki Gemmel’s article in a recent (The Australian) Weekend Magazine, I was fascinated to discover that nothing much seems to have changed. She talked about English teachers marking children down if they used too many exclamation points. Ridiculous!!!!! Her article was a time machine that took me straight back to a moment in primary school.

Actually, two moments. The first was when my grade 2 teacher told me that I needed to change the ending of an essay. In the original version of my story, I was a plane and I had crashed and died. Clearly, as a 7 year old, I had advanced knowledge of reincaranation or resurrection, but no. I did what I was told and changed the story. Then in grade 5, I was told by my teacher that one sentence could not be a paragraph. It had to be two sentences or more. Nowadays, we know better.

It’s obvious that these two landmark moments in my past must have had a big impact on me, in order for me to remember them in such detail. Even though I was a goody-two-shoes and wanted to do my best I could to please my teachers and get a good mark, to please mum and dad, clearly I was also annoyed and frustrated because I thought their logic made no sense.


And perhaps this is why I spend much of my coaching time encouraging my clients to write down whatever comes to them, without censoring themselves. Obviously, they had the same teachers, lol.

Client coaching made a big impact
One client hated the brochure they had written and insisted they were a terrible writer. I thought it wasn’t too bad and just needed a bit of editing. When I asked how many drafts they’d done, they didn’t understand the question. When I explained that writing is a process and Draft 1 is NEVER the finished product, they were so relieved! When I went on to share that in my first advertising agency job, my boss would make me do about 7 drafts of a direct marketing letter before I was even allowed to show the client, they couldn’t believe it.

That client waHappyBusinessmanlked away from my coaching session with a totally different and much more confident attitude towards their writing skills. My job was done.

Now, frequent readers of my facebook posts or my blog will know that I tend to be a bit of a stickler when it comes to spelling, grammar and punctuation. Apostrophes in particular. But when it comes to freedom of expression, I am the first to throw away the rule book. My rule of thumb is this — is it easier to understand? If yes, then do it.

Coaching and writing for your business
If you’d like some coaching to help you write your website, blog articles, brochures, editorial, press releases or just about anything else to do with advertising, please do get in touch with me. I would love to help you. And if you can’t be bothered writing it yourself, and you want an expert to do it for you, happy to do that too. It will be as painless as talking about yourself and your business for as long as you want, and I’ll do the rest.

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How to stand out from the crowd

If there was ever an example of dudes doing something different in order to stand out from the crowd, this was it. On a Saturday morning on my way home from shopping, I saw these two clowns who were going to a helluva lot of effort to get people to come to their garage sale. I was pretty impressed with the amount of trouble they went to and so of course, I couldn’t resist. I just had to stop. I’m a garage sale kinda girl, so I know that most of them are just full of trash rather than treasure, but hey, you never know…


Don’t judge a book by its cover
Looking at their demeanour and their antics, I thought ‘surely there’s not going to be anything worthwhile at this garage sale!’ Judging? Yes. Which we all do. First impressions are important, after all. However, once I went in, I was quite pleasantly surprised. Yes, there was a lot of trash but I did find some treasures in some personal development books including one by Deepak Chopra. Which just goes to show, making a little more effort than the guys with the garage sale down the road will work.

So, how does this translate to your business?
In every way! Most of the small businesses in Adelaide tend to be quite conservative and are a little worried about standing out from the crowd. Now, I’m not saying a crazy hat, a fag hanging out of your mouth, a box on your head and banging pots and pans should be the way to go, but I encourage you to think outside the box 😉 and see if you could be a little more adventurous with your advertising, marketing, promotions etc. After all, if you come across just like the business up the road, why should people shop with you?

If you want to attract more customers, why not book a brainstorming session to find out what you can do to stand out from the crowd. You can contact me via or give me a call on 0412 322 982. I’d love to help you.


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