Writing to Reach You

I started performing on stand-up comedy stages in 1998, moved into writing for TV & Radio in 2004 and this year (2014) I retired from live comedy to focus on working in copywriting and social media. I’ve recently been appointed as Content Account Manager at Caliber Marketing, with responsibilities across social media, copywriting and interactive marketing projects. Moving from comedy writing and performing into these areas may seem like a strange move but to me it’s not really. In both areas, I’ve had to pose and answer the same questions.

Who are the audience that you’re trying to reach?

It’s amazing how difficult this question can sometimes be for individuals and companies or organisations alike. The temptation is always to say “everyone”. However, trying to achieve this will only lead to producing something so impersonal and untailored that it instead connects with nobody. If you have a niche who form your core audience (or market) then don’t be afraid to reach out to them. If anything, be afraid not to.

OK, so this may be stretching dress-down Friday a little bit...

OK, so this may be stretching dress-down Friday a little bit…

How do that audience think and speak?

You wouldn’t write for an English-speaking audience in French, that’s the most obvious and broad-stroked example I can come up with. The more nuanced version would be to take into account that people’s language, tone and frame of reference are shaped by a number of things; age, gender, geographical location, income and so on. Just as not all comedy material will work with all audiences, nor will all web or social content.

You don’t want to take the risk of sounding patronising or inauthentic in your attempts to ‘speak the same language’ (a bank advertising accounts to teenagers would hardly elicit a positive response by starting an advert with “Yo!”) but at the same time there’s no harm in being aware of your audience and taking the time to find a way to reach them that remains authentic to the client (or in the case of comedy, the performer).

What platform is it for?

Again, there’s a big overlap between my past in comedy and my present line of work. There’d be no point in me writing or editing a script that has been commissioned for TV only to cram it full of ideas which can only be exploited to their full potential on radio or vice versa. Equally, if charged with coming up with the correct tone and content to suit Twitter, there’s no point in presenting a campaign that would work on LinkedIn but is doomed to failure on the intended platform.

What are the client’s wishes and requirements?

The one who pays the piper picks the tune. That’s a reasonable sentiment to bear in mind, though not slavishly so. If the client felt able to put everything together themselves then they wouldn’t be turning to you for assistance – whether that client is a comedy production company or self-storage firm. You have a responsibility to factor in the tone, image and intention that suits them and to work within those parameters…but you also have a responsibility to advise them on any tweaks to those parameters that could/should be made to get them the best results.

In comedy terms, if I write a script with a tone that suits Channel 4 at 10pm but I’ve been commissioned to write something for BBC1 Scotland pre-watershed – I haven’t met the client’s requirements, however artistically satisfying or not the piece may be. However, if I put together something that’s more on the borderline of acceptability, I should be prepared to put together a logical argument explaining the relevance/importance of getting so close to the line. It may yet come back to be altered once more but it’s still shown more of an effort on behalf of the client than always taking the path of least resistance.

What’s the most important thing?

To get it done.

I have to ask the questions that I’ve listed above and get as much information to answer them with as possible… but no amount of ‘showing working’ is going to get you off the hook in the real world if you don’t come up with the end result. I’ve worked to deadlines throughout my comedy career, whether for TV or Radio programmes or just to avoid the embarrassment of dying on my a*se in front of a Fringe audience with a show that hasn’t yet been fully put together.

What does all this tell us?

Looking for somebody to handle your company’s web presence? Start hanging around comedy clubs and TV production companies… 😉

(Jester image from Johnny Automatic used under Creative Commons agreement)

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