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Arts marketing copy — three unlikely champions

Ahead of Copywriting Day 2019 putting words in their place, trainer Jon Hawkins explains how taking inspiration from unlikely sources can improve the effectiveness of our copy.

You work in marketing for an arts or cultural organisation. You write marketing, comms, PR, social. Everything. The worst part may well be convincing your producer, curator or leader of the value of simple and clear copy. Demoralising, isn’t it? So if you’re struggling to get your programme copy or event invitation signed off, here are three unlikely champions you can wheel out all flying the flag for arts marketing copy.

Warren Buffet — investor

Warren Buffet is one of the most successful businesspeople in the world. He’s a finance whizz, understands the power of brands and is a great writer too. In fact, when he writes the annual report for his company, Berkshire Hathaway, he pretends he’s talking to his sisters Doris and Bertie.

“Though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them. My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed.”

If your producer, curator or leader is guilty of ‘going native’ with their language and using words their readers won’t understand, tell them to think of Doris and Bertie.


Image of Daniel OppenheimerDaniel Oppenheimer — psychologist

The Princeton University professor explored the intellectual impression our words leave on our readers. To do that he took one piece of content and rewrote it in five ways – starting short and clear, with the language getting ever more complex and verbose. Next he held a series of focus groups. He asked everyone to read all five pieces (he didn’t tell them he’d written all of them) and answer a question: which writer do you think is the most intelligent?

Overwhelmingly people picked the level one, straightforward writer. Why? Because we instinctively trust and respect writers who explain things simply. So don’t let your producer, curator or leader make your copy more complicated.

(If you’d like to read the full report, Oppenheimer called his paper: “Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly.” Which, as academic jokes go, is pretty funny.)


Image of Maya AngelouMaya Angelou — poet, singer, memoirist and civil rights activist

Maya Angelou knew a thing or three about how language generates an emotional response. That’s what your writing should do too.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Arts organisations can end up sounding quite abstract and academic. If your producer, curator or leader wants to take away any personal, emotional touches from your copy, try Maya on them for size. And always try to make your copy connect with your readers’ feelings.

So now you don’t have to go it alone trying to get that e-newsletter or webpage signed-off. You can call on science, literature and the corporate world for back-up.


Image of Jon Hawkins


Jon Hawkins is the trainer at Copywriting Day — putting words in their place, in London on 21 March 2019 and Leeds on 28 March 2019.



All images supplied by Jon Hawkins.