The Red Letter – What’s in the Name?

The name for The Red Letter grew from the hair on my head to the copywriting, strategic messaging and brand consulting services I provide. In other words, it combines a number of Fredricks Communications brand and personal-identity ideas.

The first is as plain as the red hair on my head. I come by it honestly. My grandfather, the late Martin C. Fredricks Jr., was a district court judge in Jamestown. He also was a redhead, and for as far back as I can remember, everyone called him “Red” instead of Martin. As his namesake and a fellow redhead, it was an honor to also take on his nickname and put it to good use in terms of marketing my company.

So, whenever someone reads The Red Letter, they are literally reading a letter from “Red.”

Second, when I started FredComm in February 2004, I knew I would offer several interrelated communication services, but that my primary offerings would match my strengths: writing and editing. The colors of writing and editing are white (paper), black (ink) and red (editor’s ink), so I selected those as my brand colors. In addition, you’ll notice that my logo contains an editor’s mark in the page icon– the three lines under the lowercase “fc” indicating that they should be capitalized.

Before I left my day job for the freelance world, I noted what some established freelancers were doing. One, in particular, caught my eye. She published a simple, one-page newsletter that reported news about her business when there was any. Mostly, though, she filled it with simple communication tips and ideas.

I also noticed that, without fail, one of the account managers in the advertising agency I worked in at the time copied and distributed that little one-page tome to everyone in the office every time it arrived on the fax machine. I thought it was a great way to stay in touch with clients, prospects and others, especially if you could make the newsletter funny, informative, a little quirky…basically quick and fun to read. So, I launched my own newsletter within a month of starting my own business.

The Red Letter has evolved with the times so that, now, rather than being a printable PDF sent by email, it’s become a blog for anyone to see any time.

Now, as for the name, The Red Letter –

You might be familiar with the term “red-letter day.” Historically, calendars denoted holidays or special days with red ink while regular days were in black. Those days came to be known as “red-letter” days. Over the years, the definition evolved into regular use to describe a really good or great day in a person’s or organization’s life, a day in which something happened that was a cause for celebration.

Today, any day in which something really positive happens can be a “red-letter day.” I have tried to extend that literally and metaphorically; a day someone receives The Red Letter in his or her in-box is a red-letter day. Stretching it even a little further still, my hope was to achieve a more substantial message: a day working with FredComm is a good day, a red-letter day.

Tying the whole thing together with a great nickname which has a literal meaning (my red hair) that helps people identify with and remember me on sight – that’s just the icing on top, so to speak.

There, more than you ever wanted to know. Hope you have a Red Letter day!

Tortoise & Hare Write-Off

“Do you have any tips for writing copy and content faster?” a colleague texted recently.

My response probably seemed to contradict the question:
Sloowwwwww doowwwwwn.

Wha-? How does slowing down make one faster, especially when it comes to getting characters onto a blank screen? It makes no sense!

Who ever said writing is supposed to make sense? Certainly the writing, as in the words and narrative that eventually wind up in front of a reader, yes, that has to make sense. But how you get there, the process you go through – that’s another matter altogether.

Hurry up, you’re thinking now. Explain yourself!

Hey, man, like I said. Sloowwwww dowwwnnnn. Or, as many a Brit might say, “Chilllllll, Winston.”

Before I explain what I mean, know this: ask 10 or 100 or 1,000 copywriters how to write quickly and you’ll get as many different solutions for being faster. Writing is an individual, solitary, every-mind-for-itself endeavor. Everyone does it differently.

With that caveat out of the way, here’s what I mean by “slow down.”

For me, most writing doesn’t happen on a keyboard, show up on a computer screen or result from pen on paper. I’d say 50-65 percent of writing occurs long before that, in discussions with clients and conversations with experts, and online doing research.

After that – and for me, this is the lion’s share of that 65 percent – it all happens between the ears, baby.

It’s tempting to dive right into a project, figure it out as you go. For some, that’s the best and fastest way to write.

For everyone else, myself included, here’s my advice: take a breath and figure out where you’re going before taking those first fingertip-toes across the keyboard. In a word, think.

  1. That’s right. Think the project through first. Ask yourself questions like:
  • What is the objective for this piece?
  • Who am I trying to reach?
  • What motivates them?
  • What is the main message?
  • What are secondary messages?
  • How does this tie into the client’s bigger story? Or how can I massage it into the client’s bigger story?
  1. Think some more. How can you turn all of this into a story, something compelling with a beginning, a middle and an end? (Sounds familiar, right? Sort of like the old English teacher’s dreaded outline.)

Sometimes – and I realize this sounds a little crazy – I visualize the finished piece. I imagine how the words and paragraphs are going to look on the paper, how they’ll flow logically or creatively (ideally a mix of both) from one to the next to the next to the end.

Hey, why not? It can work for a basketball player about to take a free throw or a pole vaulter charging down the approach toward a really high bar; it can help a copywriter beginning a piece, too.

  1. Put your outline on paper. Shift thoughts around, reimagine the flow, consider quotes you need or already have and where they’ll fit in.
  1. Write. Just write. DO NOT self-edit as you go.
  1.  If you’re having trouble, just tell the story. Sometimes we walk into the  booby trap of worrying about style or how this relates to that or  whether the client would actually say that in a quote or… Never mind  all that. Just tell the story. When I start writing astray, I repeat it to  myself like a mantra: Just tell the story. Just tell the story. Just tell the story….
  1.  This next step can be the bugger of the bunch. It’s tripped up many a copywriter, myself included, and wasted valuable time.

When you’re done, stop.

There comes a point when anything more you write, any more jiggering you do, any more I-have-to-work-this-in-somewhere, is just going to screw it up. When the story is told, stop telling it.

  1.  Set your first draft aside for a day or two if possible. If not, squeeze out an hour, at minimum.
  1. Revise.
  1. Edit.
  1. Let someone else read it. Take their feedback for what it’s worth. Keep  what’s good about it. Ignore what’s not.
  1. Repeat steps 8 and 9. As many times as necessary.

All of this takes time, it’s true. And, man-oh-man, the last thing you needed was a marketing writer’s retelling of an Aesop’s Fable.

But here’s the thing – when it comes to copywriting, the determined turtle is always faster than the random rabbit. By slowing down you’ll get closer to the true mark of every piece earlier. You won’t need to experience the crushing defeat of being told your draft isn’t even close. You won’t have to return to the keyboard in humiliation after a discussion with an account manager or creative director. And you’ll never need to go back to step #1 on that particular project.

Follow these steps – many of which most writers have heard a million times before – and you’ll become a faster advertising, marketing and public relations copywriter and content creator. As for developing that hard outer shell, well, we’ll get to that one later.