Confession first: that's a Woody Allen joke, not mine. But there's a reason for sharing it – I'll get to that in a moment.
First a story a client told me recently.
He described being on the train and seeing a fellow passenger – a woman with young children – pick up the insert that we had helped create for the charity he works for.
Naturally, I was hoping the client was going to tell me he'd seen the woman read the insert attentively, perhaps nodding from time to time, before reaching for a pen with which to complete the Direct Debit form.
In fact, this is what happened. The woman was travelling with two young children. She wanted to read her newspaper. They didn't want her to. So she opened her newspaper, took out the insert and tore off a page for each child. It ended up being thoroughly crumpled up and, in parts, chewed.
It's a little heart-breaking when you think of the work that went into it, not to mention the expense. That's the reality though.
When we are doing recruitment work in particular, it's worth remembering that what we're producing will be ignored by almost everyone and actively avoided by others.
Depressing? Well, I'd say no. It's just a measure of the challenge we face. The first hurdle is avoiding being immediately thrown away.
All charities are in the same situation, so what tactics are being successfully used to ensure potential supporters engage with recruitment pieces?
The British Red Cross banker pack follows a path previously trodden by NSPCC, Cancer Research UK and no doubt others. It begins with an apology for sending unsolicited mail, pointing out that the organisation is taking this route because it is a cost-effective way of getting much-needed new supporters. The British Red Cross pack includes a set of cards, address labels and other gifts, which are hard to throw away.
In a similar vein, come springtime, there's a clump of daffodils in my garden, the bulbs having come from Marie Curie's highly successful recruitment pack (since scuppered by the change in Royal Mail charging). We were able to match its response and beat its ROI with a very simple personal approach from a nurse.
All of these are techniques for giving the recruitment piece 'value' in the eyes of the donors. At the same time, they act as ways of engaging the donor beyond giving. The daffodil bulb is to remember someone who has died of cancer. The cards enable the donor to show to others they are a supporter, raising awareness of the cause.
And, with a nod to Woody Allen, it helps to ensure that readers, however inattentive, are able to quickly grasp the ultimate message of the piece.
To make sure your key messages are effectively conveyed, it's worth understanding how people read, then using techniques that work for each group (something it appears Tolstoy neglected to do).
Here is how reading types are often described:
- Browsers (people who flick through)
- Scanners (someone who runs through text looking for key words and phrases)
- Skimmers (someone who runs eyes over text to identify key ideas)
I like to add one more - the person who reads diligently from beginning to end. A really skillful copywriter covers all these groups within a piece, without insulting the intelligence of someone who does read from beginning to end.
Layout is as important as the copy itself – handwritten sections, bolding, underlining are all very useful for highlighting key messages, not to mention highlighting itself. So if you are in the not unknown situation of having brand guidelines that rule out these techniques, it's time to start stamping your foot or negotiating, whichever is your style.
You can see them in use on this insert below, our latest offering to hungry, bored children travelling by train. With the hole cut in the front cover, we go to some lengths to engage the reader, getting our message across in a visually meaningful way. Very few words are needed at all to understand the immediate need for help. I will let you know how it gets on.