Author: Karen

Tutoring in Scotland from content marketing experts at CMA conference in Edinburgh

The content marketing conference where no one forgot to be awesome…

Unlike my esteemed copywriting colleague John Espirian, who is ‘relentlessly helpful’, I veer more towards the strapline ‘relentlessly procrastinating’, so it is perhaps unsurprising that I am writing this review almost exactly a month after returning from the CMALive18 conference in Edinburgh.

Still, I shall seek solace (and an excuse!) in the knowledge that American writer and speaker Natalie Goldberg recommends that writing need time to “compost”. The words you are about to read are, I can assure you, very well composted indeed…

Social media advice in abundance

As on previous occasions, the Content Marketing Academy’s annual Scottish content marketing extravaganza was organised, and very personably hosted at The Hub in Edinburgh, by Chris Marr and his hard-working CMA team. For those not familiar with Chris, his characteristic email sign-off is #DFTBA (don’t forget to be awesome) – whence the title of this summary.

Admittedly, the myriad of useful information and advice offered by the keynote speakers and other international social media gurus at this two-day event descended deluge-like on my beleaguered tutorly brain, which, until just a couple of weeks previously, had been stuffed with quotes from The Cone-Gatherers and A Streetcar Named Desire, not to mention miraculous ways of making vital French verbs and gruesome German grammar memorable.

Yet while the topic of content marketing might initially seem a world away from analysing the finer points of Scottish and English literature, distinct similarities were to emerge as the conference unfolded. Nowhere was this more evident than in Ann Handley’s presentation, which she based on the book Charlotte’s Web by American author E.B. White.



However, let’s start at the very beginning, as another American wordsmith, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, once very sensibly suggested. Here, in chronological order, are my key personal takeaway ‘nuggets’ from social media’s most madcap and illuminating annual event.

Brian Fanzo (@iSocialFanz)

It’s not easy being charged with opening a hotly anticipated conference, but baseball-cap-toting boy-next-door Brian had no problems setting the benchmark for the presentational excellence which was to follow during the rest of the conference. So what did Brian say?

  • Perfection is a fairy tale: just press the damn button!
  • Create content in real time, but at the right time.
  • Shrink the distance between your brand (you) and your customers.
  • Community is the future of business. Collaboration is the future of innovation, so find symbiotic relationships. Relatability is the future of marketing.
  • Know which generation you are marketing to: Boomers (1946 to 1964); Gen X (1965 to 1980); Millennials (1980 to 2000); Gen Z (2000 to Netflix/Snapchat, etc.).
  • You do not need permission to take action. When everyone else is zigging, zag!

Karen Reyburn (@KarenLReyburn)

Confess that you’re an accountant by profession and prepare for your listener’s eyes to glaze over – unless, that is, you’re Karen Reyburn or one of her clients. Her mission is to breathe life and energy into marketing accountancy businesses, and her creative approach helps boost the profile of a profession oft slated for its dullness. So what did Karen say?

  • Know who you are, whom you serve and (most importantly) whom you don’t
  • It’s important to exclude some people so you can serve those people you really want to serve.
  • Don’t market to everyone who has a pulse and payment. Start marketing to someone.
  • Make your blogs relevant/useful to your target audience. [Some people even quote Karen’s blogs back to her.]
  • Have a niche. Once you have established your niche, your expertise both deepens and widens.
  • Specificity [Now say that slowly… spe-cif-i-city!] rules: be as specific as possible with your marketing so you reach the right people.

Allan Corfield  (@allan_corfield)

Not only has self-build housing guru Allan quite literally been the architect of many iconic buildings in places as far apart as Scotland and the deep south of England, he has also been the metaphorical architect of his Dunfermline-based company’s rapid social media success. So what did Allan say?

  • Being made redundant makes you feel you’re useless.
  • Build your website for your end users – not for you.
  • Everyone says they are too busy to do marketing.
  • Expect a social media strategy to take a long time. Giving it one to two months will not work – have an 18-month strategy.
  • They ask; you answer (e.g. by means of a blog post or killer eBook content).
  • To cut down on the workload of answering queries, list the questions you’re asked most often and make short video answers for your website.
  • Prequalify your leads by mentioning your prices on your website.
  • Become a thought leader.

Mark Asquith (@MrAsquith)

The highly affable Mr Asquith hails from Barnsley and has built a loyal online following who appreciate his particular passion for podcasts. As forthright as he is funny, Mark tells it like it is, and it isn’t hard to understand why so many people tune in each week to benefit from his Free Coaching Friday sessions. So what did Mark say?

  • Your personality is your company’s secret weapon.
  • Your job is not to pitch for work. Your job is to ‘tip the scales’ (in your favour). Do that and you’ll never have to pitch again.
  • We buy from people we know, like and trust.
  • We cannot always be better at the game, so we have to change the game and become the only viable option.
  • Comparisons aren’t fair. Be the orange in the box of apples – stand out.
  • Have an opinion. No one remembers the middle-of-the-road/grey/‘blending-in’ type of guy. Be the leader.
  • Take people behind the scenes and get uncomfortable. If you feel you’ve gone too far, you’ve probably not gone far enough…
  • Create a daily routine for one platform initially. Don’t try to be everywhere all the time.
  • “Those who tell the stories rule the world.” (Plato)
  • Marketing should support your customers’ outcomes – NOT yours. What do your prospects want to achieve in their life?

Salma Jafri (@salmajafri)

Despite not being physically present at the conference, owing to unforeseen travel issues, video content strategist Salma still made her irrepressible presence felt in the room all the way from Pakistan – rather appropriately via live video! – as she shared tips on how to make a brand’s video content sing. So what did Salma say?

  • Go where attention spans and algorithms reward you. All algorithms reward live/native video.
  • 80% of online content will be video by 2021.
  • Tubebuddy lets you see how your site ranks for certain key words/phrases.
  • There are three main types of content (H3 model): help (‘how to’ posts, etc.); hub (episodic ‘push’ posts, finding people’s passion point); hero (‘go big’ posts or ‘tentpole’ content).
  • For hero content, remember the 4 C’s: constraint (limit your choices); consistency (remember that audiences have been ‘trained’ by TV to expect something new/exciting every week); content plan (based on themes, keywords and calls to action – ‘plan your work then work your plan’); community (collaboration is key).
  • Be aware that ‘traffic’ is not synonymous with ‘audience’, and understand the difference.

Ann Handley (@AnnHandley)

A professional storyteller herself, Ann chose to focus the main message of her presentation on the expertise of one of her literary idols, E.B. White (of The Elements of Style fame), and particularly on the superpower – i.e. words – of his character Charlotte the spider.

The opening of Charlotte’s Web is, Ann believes, one of the best first lines in literature. When Fern asks her mum “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” it catches readers’ attention immediately and takes them straight to what matters in the story – the survival of Wilbur. So what did Ann say?

  • Ann believes that Charlotte is the world’s best content marketer. She weaves words into her webs in a determined effort to persuade the farmer not to kill Wilbur. And we can learn lessons from her careful – and powerful – choice of words. For example, she starts her campaign to save Wilbur with just two simple words, “Some pig”, rather than the frantic “Don’t kill the pig” approach that you might expect.
  • Charlotte understands that the emotional response of the reader (or audience) is what matters in marketing. By praising Wilbur, she is massaging his owner’s ego, and the farmer responds to that praise – it makes him feel good.
  • In your marketing, be sure to take yourself out of the story. It’s all about the customer and not the seller. Remember to focus on your target audience and their emotional response to your messages.
  • ‘Do less and obsess.’ Ensure the marketing material you produce is outstanding and valuable. If you aren’t sure what your audience considers to be valuable, check the content of your inbox. The queries people send you can provide inspiration for blog posts: keep a note of all the questions people ask.
  • Use the three C’s principle: communicate your ideas with clarity; have the confidence to express your ideas in public; connect with others.
  • Observe as closely as Fern does. Remember that all five senses matter when writing copy intended to touch people’s emotions. Pick two senses in each piece of writing you undertake, and your copy is more likely to trigger an emotional response.
  • Make time to write every day. Find your tone of voice ( is a useful tool for this).
  • Ask yourself: “Would my content be missed?” [Now that’s a sobering question…]

Amy Harrison (@HarrisonAmy)

Amy began by telling us that people don’t follow instructions; so, evidently Chris Marr must have ‘persuaded’ (rather than instructed) her to speak at CMALive18, and I for one am very glad he did, as her presentation The Copywriting Snapshot was extremely informative. So what did Amy say?

  • People need a good reason to do something, but they don’t always follow instructions. We need to persuade them. [See above!]
  • A copywriter is a salesperson in print, but a copywriter can’t just ‘wait for the muse’.
  • Creating a customer persona can be problematic – no matter how accurate we believe the profile we’ve created for them might look, in the end it is just fiction.
  • To find out what worries your customers, ask them! [Amy asked her contact list and received 2000 responses listing all their concerns and problems. This, she explained, was far more useful and realistic than imagining what their pet dog might be called.]
  • Ask yourself “Why won’t my perfect customer buy my product?” Why might they not trust you or your product?
  • Think about what your potential customer can do with your product and how using it will make them feel. How would they describe your product to someone else?
  • Tap into and acknowledge their frustrations with your industry, and show how you are different.

Gavin Bell (@MrGavinBell)

That murky image of Facebook guru Gav hiding in a forest to film his first-ever vlog post will long remain in my mind – mainly because it was very funny [Sorry, Gav!] but also because it was inspiring for those of us in the room (or perhaps that was just me?) who feel a tad intimidated about launching ourselves into live video. Many thanks for the nudge, Gav, though I’m not sure I’m quite ready just yet… [*pores over OS map looking for closest forest to Kinross*] So what did Gavin say?

  • Identify what is holding you back from creating video – remember it is your biggest business opportunity.
  • Embrace the messy. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Everyone has to start somewhere.
  • Recording your first vlog/video is a crucial step on a journey that will a) increase your confidence, and b) make your customers feel as though they already know you. That last part is important, since people are reluctant to buy from strangers.
  • Accept criticism and use it to improve your future attempts until your content is truly great. Build up a bank of content and consistently provide people with value long before you try to sell to them.
  • Focus on your best-performing posts and boost those. Six seconds is the average length of time people spend watching a video (three seconds counts as a view). If people watch one of your videos for, say, eight seconds, then that ad is probably worth boosting on Facebook.
  • Having lots of views is all well and good, but remember: views are not revenue. You need to follow up the people who show interest in your content, e.g. track them and do a follow-up ad.
  • Human relationships and communication are what matter more than content marketing or social media per se.

Jen Munro (@JenMunro1980)

Jen works with teenagers in the ever-challenging yet extremely rewarding realm of education, as I do, so I was particularly interested to hear her presentation about the importance of being a values-led business. She based her talk about brand values on the example of her thriving company ISSOS, which runs international educational summer camps in St Andrews, Cambridge and at Yale. So what did Jen say?

  • Know your company’s values and make sure they run through everything you do. People buy from companies whose values resonate with their own.
  • ‘Hug’ people with your marketing.
  • Marketing is all about telling a story.
  • Play on people’s fear of missing out (FOMO), e.g. Don’t miss this opportunity…
  • Follow up contacts!
  • Jesus was the ultimate marketer, because his 12 disciples ‘referral marketed’ him so effectively. Get your customers to be your disciples, i.e. use people who have already experienced your products to sell them to others.
  • People often forget what you did or what you said, but they will always remember the way you made them feel.

Chris Marr (@ChrisMarr101)

Given that the Content Marketing Academy was Chris’s brainchild, it’s unsurprising that he should have chosen to talk about how powerful online communities can be in helping entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. Indeed, the success of CMALive18 and previous CMALive conferences provides ample proof that his is no empty claim. He chose to speak about Being part of something larger than yourself: the incredible power of online learning communities. So what did Chris say?

  • One of the main factors behind the growth of online communities is the concept of the ‘zone of proximal development’ (the difference between what you can do with help and what you can do without it).
  • Allow yourself to be challenged.
  • One of the key benefits of being in a community of peers is that advice from people in a similar position to you can often be more relatable than advice proffered by a guru or expert.
  • People are capable of far more than they think they are.
  • Online communities boost members’ self-confidence. Self-belief is the greatest gift you can give someone. [Chris referred here to one of his favourite reviews of the conference – the moment when an attendee said, “I now believe I can.”]
  • Go a little bit out of your depth and you’re in the right place to do something exciting.
  • ‘We’ are greater than ‘me’, but first be a great ‘me’.

Jon Burkhart (@jonburkhart)

Being a person who prides herself on having a certain facility with words, I should probably be ashamed to confess that Jon’s energetic, explosive and at times irreverent presentation style left me nearly speechless. But it genuinely did – and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. In fact, I suspect that the words necessary to describe Jon in all his go-getter, gung-ho glory (especially during his iconic ‘beer notes’ session at the end of the conference) have not yet been added to the English language… So what did Jon say?

  • Curiosity rules. Ask ‘firecracker’ questions – not just the run-of-the-mill, rational, boring ones. Be imaginative.
  • Take advantage of online resources such as Buzzsumo ( ) and Answer the Public ( ).
  • Remember the POPS acronym for marketing: provocation (do something edgy); originality (come up with a big idea); playfulness (encourage fun and games around your brand – human beings love to play); surprise them!
  • Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Remember, someone once said in a meeting, “Let’s make a film about a tornado full of sharks…” And it happened!

[More on Jon anon…]

Mike Morrison (@mikeMIMO)

We’d already heard earlier from Chris Marr about the power of online communities, and one online business model that was mentioned on several occasions during the conference was membership sites. Mike Morrison (whose soubriquet is fittingly ‘the membership guy’) certainly has plenty of in-depth experience in this area, which he shared generously in his presentation One to many: A step-by-step guide to membership success.

I suspect that his description of Linda, his hypothetical professional ‘pain in the derrière’ customer, will have resonated with more than a few people in the room… So what did Mike say?

  • Get off the hamster wheel and out of the time-for-money trap.
  • Harness your skills in a way which attracts a community around your expertise – then use that community to generate recurring revenue by nurturing the members and providing value.
  • Market like a farmer, not a hunter.
  • Recruit, retain, repeat. But remember that selling memberships is very different from selling, say, a book. With a book, the sale is generally the end goal. With memberships, the sale is just the beginning: you have to keep your members locked in.
  • Building a community is a lot of hard work, and you need to be in for the ‘long haul’. Social proof is an important part of membership.
  • Offer trial periods for a nominal fee to overcome potential members’ aversion to risk.
  • You are the total of the five people you spend most time with, so if you aim to be successful, surround yourself with like-minded, positive people, i.e. be part of a good community.

Chris Brogan (@ChrisBrogan)

Despite already having been treated to two stimulating days of presentations jam-packed with information, the CMALive18 audience was still avidly absorbing facts and advice, and the last keynote speaker provided both of these in plentiful supply. At times self-deprecating, Chris’s dry humour was always on point and his advice apposite. So what did Chris say?

  • The key to a successful social media presence is not ‘more’ content; it’s the ‘RIGHT’ content.
  • When you create content, do so to connect and to serve (i.e. serving as opposed to selling).
  • Equip the buyer’s story, making them the hero of the tale. You exist to make them successful.
  • Be where they (your customers) are; go where they’re going.
  • Your social media content needs to be four things: brief, simple, connective, and indicative of your true self.
  • No one wakes up in the morning wanting to read your content – they have plenty of other things they need to do. They don’t need your content until they do (and that word ‘until’ is very important).
  • Know where you customers are right now – and what they want.
  • Remember that people do not hate marketing per se – they hate BAD marketing. Your content needs to be specific to where your customers are on their journey now. They need to be ready to buy.
  • Blog for Google, but create for people.

As mentioned briefly above, the inimitable Jon Burkhart delivered his so-called ‘beer note’ (the name being particularly apt, thanks to the arrival of a consignment of free beer for delegates courtesy of Bellfield Brewery) in his usual hyperbolic fashion, whipping up what can best be described as a ‘content marketing frenzy’. In this endeavour, he was aided and abetted by nifty mover and host Chris Marr, plus impressively acrobatic delegate Ess Green – whose exit from the stage via a backwards somersault epitomised the edgy, anything-could-happen ambience that prevailed over the whole two days.





content marketing conference

Why the CMA Content Marketing Conference in Edinburgh Rocked

What was so awesome about #CMALive17?

The minute I spotted the jar of sweets on the table, I knew this was my kind of conference…

Working as a solo entrepreneur undoubtedly has its advantages – such as no office politics, no psycho boss (whom you will never please however hard you try), no fights over who gets to use the microwave first during lunchbreak, and no embarrassing photos popping up on Facebook in the aftermath of the infamous office Christmas party…

However, there are also a few disadvantages of working on your own, and perhaps the most significant of these (apart from sitting alone at your laptop on Christmas Eve, munching a solitary mince pie…) is the lack of opportunity to ‘hang out’ with like-minded professionals.

That’s where events such as last week’s Content Marketing Academy conference, held at The Hub on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, come into their own for the freelancer or sole trader.

The stunning interior of the Edinburgh Festival Hub provided a suitably creative setting

Of course, conferences can be dull, and it was with a sense of blind optimism that one whole year ago, in June 2016, I dispatched a payment to the CMA via the virtual ether, in the fond hope that I’d be able to justify the experience in my mind as a form of ‘personal development’ – a factor that can be woefully neglected when you’re working for yourself.

June 2017 eventually came round and my hopes, as it transpired, had not been misplaced. Indeed, it rapidly became apparent during the first presentation of the conference – and the equally enlightening ones that followed it – that this event was going to be anything but dull (and I don’t just mean the ‘choice’ language being bandied about in a couple of the presentations!).

The use of expletives in modern content marketing was covered by several speakers

Advice and anecdotes concerning the latest technology and techniques used in content marketing flew thick and fast from the stage, fired by keynote speakers and lightning speakers alike. My long-neglected interpreting shorthand symbols, acquired during a four-year interpreting degree back in the 1980s, proved very useful for noting down as many of the myriad pearls of wisdom as possible.

Now back in the tranquil environment of my home office in the Kinross-shire countryside, I’ve tried to work out why the CMA conference – organised by the inimitable Chris Marr and his team – had such an impact on me and on many of the other delegates whom I had the pleasure of meeting there. How did it engage the 170 (or so) audience members so completely from 9am till 5pm each day?

Chris Marr, organiser of the CMA Content Marketing Conference, addresses the audience

On reflection, I believe the conference ‘worked’ so well because there was a tangible meeting of minds in the room – and this despite the facts that the attendees came from a wide range of business environments and that many had never met previously.

When I say ‘wide range’, that’s precisely what I mean. Naturally, there were the obvious candidates whom you’d expect to find at a conference which focuses on content marketing – copywriting/editing professionals, IT gurus, photographers and website designers.

However, there were also attendees representing many other businesses – including recruitment companies, hairdressers, manufacturers and financial advisors. And we all had one thing in common: we wanted to know how to make our content ‘sing’ from the screen to potential customers, encouraging them to engage with our businesses and (eventually) buy our product or service.

I use the word ‘eventually’ intentionally here, because one of the key messages that emerged across the two days was that you can’t simply flog products and services to potential/existing customers in the way that used to be done in the good old pre-internet days.

Today’s customers are more capricious; they have to be ‘courted’ and ‘flirted with a little’, so they begin to like (better still, love) what you do. And that process inevitably takes time.

As speaker Mark Schaefer emphasised in his presentation, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul and “adopt a 30-month mindset”, as two and a half years is the average period likely to elapse before you can expect to reap the fruits of your content marketing labours.

You may even fail first-time round if your product or your marketing messaging isn’t quite right, and that might mean starting all over again. However, one thing is certain: if you don’t ever start that all-important conversation with your potential customers, your chances of success are virtually zero.

The conversation can take place at many levels and – in this 21st-century digital age – on many platforms. However, it’s wise not to dive headlong on to too many platforms, as a scattergun approach can dilute the strength and effectiveness of your brand.

There was much to ponder by the end of the conference. Each delegate no doubt took home something different, as certain presentations were naturally more relevant to our own specific business situations than others. For anyone who’s interested, I’ve compiled a selection of the points which seemed most relevant to my own two small businesses.

CMALive17: My Points to Ponder


“By 2020, 90% of all online content will be video, and a good chunk of that will be live video.”

“You need to become someone’s favourite.”

“Create content that solves problems, e.g. ‘How to…’ guides.”

“Consistently provide value.”

“Only include one call-to-action per video.”

“Schedule every minute of the day.”


“Keep your marketing strategy simple: set your goal; define your offer; plan content marketing activity to support your strategy.”

“Talk your customers’ lingo; don’t use jargon or mumbo-jumbo management speak; avoid the curse of knowledge.”

“It’s important to find a simple one-liner that sums up your business, e.g. ‘Your cat sits on our mat’ for a cat mat manufacturer.”

“Avoid the passive voice.” (In other words, don’t say ‘The passive voice should be avoided’!)

“Think big. Act small. Act humble.”

The slide above shows what can happen to a simple strapline as a company grows…


“When networking, follow up with emails and do not sell hard.”

“Just keep in touch with prospective customers – no pressure.”

“You will win more friends in a two-month period being ‘interested in’ your customers than in two years of trying to ‘sell to’ them.”


“Swearing makes up 3.4% of normal everyday speech.”

“First person plural pronouns (such as we/our/us) only make up 1% of everyday language.”

“English speakers in the States use 80 to 90 swear words per day on average.”

“The use of expletives in marketing can do all the following: surprise; indicate confidence; resonate with like-minded customers; make you sound authentic; make what you’re saying humorous; add mojo to your voice.”


“Stop hunting elephants.” (In other words, stop going after big ‘trophies’ instead of focusing on what you actually do well.)

“Be vulnerable, and that means not always being right. Be compassionate and be human.”

“Reframe what you think about fear and how you use it.”

“When you meet someone new, don’t just ask the usual ‘So what do you do?’”

“Ask prospective customers a ‘big universal question’ to open up the conversation, e.g. ‘Have you ever been stuck?’ or (if your service happens to be making videos) ‘Have you ever wished that all the time, energy and money invested in your video content could make you look like the rock star you are?’ This will then allow you to outline how your product or service can solve your potential customer’s problem.”

Mark Schaefer spoke about the difference between being ‘famous’ and being ‘known’


“Technology is changing consumer behaviour – it’s no longer enough to develop customer loyalty.”

“The ‘ping, ping, ping’ approach (i.e. drip-feeding info) no longer works. Nowadays you need to be ‘known’.”

“Being ‘known’ is not the same as being ‘famous’. It means being recognised by your (existing and potential) customers for what you do – or your company does – well. No one is born ‘known’ – this status has to be earned over time through developing your authority, presence and reputation.”

“You need your customer to feel ‘hugged’ by your brand. You need to be somebody’s favourite and fight every day to stay that way.”

“There is no shortcut. You must put in the work and create good content.”

“If you follow a dream without a plan, you have a hobby and not a business.”

“Pick one thing and master it. Don’t be a magpie and get distracted. Remember there is a human cost to everything you do, so be selective with your content marketing.”

“If you’re blogging, make sure you have a unique angle (e.g. there are numerous food bloggers, but one has differentiated herself by featuring famous recipes from TV or films).”

“The internet is just beginning. There’s been no better time in history to start than right now!”


“Avoid the content crickets” (i.e. don’t just keep firing content out that is not relevant to people or all you’ll hear in response is the chirping of crickets and no human engagement).

“Define in three words or phrases the brand values that make you unique. And don’t use words such as ‘friendly and professional’, as these are baseline values for every company.”

“Create a ‘content stamp’ – your unique mark that makes you stand out from your competitors.”

“When writing a mission statement for your company, use the following format: ‘I’m going to ________________ for ________________ so they can ______________________, because ________________.”

“Develop an avatar for your audience, and not just their demographic but also the problems they encounter.”

“Identify your arch enemy then be different.”

“Develop your readily identifiable ‘lingo’, e.g. have a few catchphrases such as blogger Joe Wicks’s “lean in 15” or “prep like a boss.”

“Don’t choose to deliver content to your customer using the way you want – deliver it in the way your customers want.”

“Make your content shareable for one of these five reasons: brand advocacy; emotions (content that makes the reader feel smart, scared, amused or inspired); appearance (how will sharing it make them look); causes and beliefs (your customers’ causes and beliefs, that is); high value.”


“When attempting to get PR for your small business, start with ‘low-hanging fruit’, e.g. a press release about a new product or service.”

“Another way of attracting media attention is to tweet using the hashtag #journorequest – this allows people with stories to connect with journalists who are interested in covering similar stories.”

“’Newsjack’ a story that is in the press. For example, if Jeremy Vine is featuring an item on a scenario that is familiar to you, call the BBC to alert them to your expertise in or personal experience of this matter. It might lead to your story gaining welcome PR for your brand.”

“Teach your reader something (e.g. write a ‘How to…’ article).”

“Develop your own stories to pitch to the media about a variety of areas (relationships/family/money/work/life and death/hobbies and interests), but always relate the story back to your business.”

“Tell stories that people want to hear and not the stories you want to tell.”

“When pitching to journalists, use a powerful but succinct 10-word (max.) top line to hook the editor’s interest, e.g. ‘I photographed every doorway I slept in’ or ‘I sacked my dad.’”


“My maths teacher told me I’d never amount to anything and six months later I dropped out of school. Now I work with Marcus Sheridan.” (Ed: For anyone not at CMALive17, Marcus was one of the keynote speakers at the conference and is very highly regarded in the field of content marketing.)

“You don’t need to be a nerd or a brainiac – you do need to focus on growth mindset and not be afraid to use the tools.”

“There are numerous technical tools and software products out there, some of which are free. Examples worth exploring include Slimstats, Monster Insights, YoastSEO, Mautic and Social Warfare.”

“Make your ‘complex’ as simple as possible.”

Marcus Sheridan talked about the importance of playing to your strengths


“Never let your schooling get in the way of your education.”

“Beware of becoming a ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’.”

“If necessary, let go of some of your goals. Don’t marry your goals: marry progress. Goals are a compass, but be ready to pivot.”

“Define your KPIs (be that the number of enquiries, number of conversions, gross revenue, margin…) carefully. Stick to the metrics that matter in your business.”

“Don’t assume that engagement means business. You could have 10,574 comments on a post but get no conversions from that post.”

“When blogging, be sure to include images, not make it too long and structure the text in an attractive, easy-to-read way. Remember to include a call to action at the end!”

“Let go of any negative feedback (10%) and focus on the positive feedback (90%). Ignore the doubters and the haters.”

“One of the greatest tools in the world is asking the right questions at the right time.”

“Do what your competitors don’t do. If your clients ask … answer their questions. This includes talking about the negatives of your own products or services, and being prepared to talk about your competitors.”

“Own your story – it’s what has made you!”

That’s a lot of content marketing wisdom to absorb

As you can see from the above lengthy list of helpful tips, there was a lot of content marketing knowhow to take on board – and I would stress that these snippets only scratch the surface of everything that was mentioned over the two days. I’ve not even touched on the fantastic lightning presentations by Col Gray and Ross Coverdale, Yva Yorston, Sharon Menzies, Cara Mackay, Pamela Laird, Karen Reyburn and Danielle Sheridan, all of which were as inspiring as they were insightful.

On Friday night, after a quick detour via Murrayfield to watch Robbie Williams in concert, I returned to my rural ivory tower, resolved to implement at least some of the new knowledge gleaned at #CMALive17 in my own two small businesses. Fortunately, I’ve never had any remote desire to be famous. However, I do want to succeed in business, so I will undoubtedly draw on what I learned at the conference when planning future content marketing activities for Euroword and The Learning Cauldron, and perhaps one day (at least 30 months from now!) I might even become ‘known’…

Never managed to get to speak to these guys at the conference – perhaps next year…

photo of two editing books

Two tips to make your proofreading more effective

Recently, while attending a business breakfast organised by Fife Women in Business, I shared with fellow breakfasters a couple of tips for proofreading short documents more efficiently.

Afterwards, several people mentioned to me how useful they had found these tips, so I thought it would make sense to share them here on the blog in case others also find them helpful.

Read the text out loud

“I’ve already proofread this document five times. What difference could reading it out loud possibly make?” you may wonder. Prepare to be surprised. As powerful and clever as it is, our brain is not averse to playing the odd trick on us. Or rather our grey cells sometimes do their job too well and while we are reading, they automatically fill in any missing word they know should be there – even if we never actually wrote that word…

Quite apart from helping identify missing words, reading out loud gives us an opportunity to gauge the flow and – possibly even more importantly – the impact of our words. A turn of phrase that appears perfectly civil when one’s eye skims over it can come across quite differently when you actually ‘hear’. For example, it might sound more aggressive than you originally intended.

Begin at the end of the document and work backwards sentence by sentence

By reading the last sentence, then the penultimate sentence and so forth all the way back to the start of the document, you will stop your brain from going into automaton mode. This can happen all too easily, simply because it has already become familiar with reading the sentences in the correct order.

By disrupting the sentence order, you will make your brain work harder and focus better, so it’s less likely to skip over any typos, duplicated words or grammar gaffes. As a bonus, you’re also more likely to spot any missing full stops.

This advice is most applicable to short documents (up to, say, a couple of pages long). However, for practical reasons, it may not always be possible to read even a short document out loud. On such occasions, another skill is required: reading out loud “inside your head”.

This may sound a difficult skill to master, but you’d be amazed how easy it is and how effective it can be. Instead of just allowing your eyes to skim over the text as you normally would when reading silently, make yourself linger just a little longer on each word – pointing your finger at each word individually as you read it can make this easier – while in your head “hearing” that word read out loud.

Try these two techniques next time you’re proofreading an important email or letter and see if you spot anything you hadn’t noticed the first five times you read it!


hedgehog curled up into a ball

Do you curl up and ignore your copy deadline or get writing?

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” ― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

A friend once compared the process of creating fresh copy to that of giving birth… but without the pain relief. Any of us who have sat staring at a blank piece of paper (or blank screen), bereft of words or ideas and downright daunted by the prospect of starting a report, presentation or web copy, will no doubt identify with that analogy.

So how to break the deadlock? Here are three tips to help you get started

1.       Throw your perfectionism out the window and just write. Even if you know in your heart of hearts that what you’re writing is nowhere near the succinct, well-crafted document that will eventually become your final version, the very act of making a start can help unlock your mind and allow more coherent ideas to emerge through your reluctant writerly haze. Write down anything about the topic that comes into your mind, confident in the knowledge that you can edit it to your heart’s content later.

2.       Take a thought shower. I began by writing “brainstorm” here then remembered that this term – popularised by Alex Faickney Osborn in the 1953 book Applied Imagination – is now deemed offensive. So I promptly changed it to the (albeit not quite as succinct or evocative, but more politically correct) 21st century alternative. Whatever you may wish to call this process of exchanging ideas with others, the basic precept is the same: two (or more) heads are better than one. Even a brief discussion with colleagues at the water dispenser might provide the inspiration you need to get you started.

3.       Read. As any writing coach will tell you, one way to become a good writer is to read, read and read some more. And although we all know to avoid plagiarism like the… er… plague and we aspire to write unique copy at all times, the process of immersing ourselves, even briefly, in what others have previously written on similar subjects may well sow the seed of an original idea – even if only because we vehemently disagree with the other writer’s opinion!

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
― Ernest Hemingway



Worn, shabby shoes

Blogging – and why this writer should practise what she preaches!

As a child, I remember hearing people say that “The cobbler’s bairns are aye the worst shod” – only in those days, I did not fully appreciate what this meant. I hadn’t heard the expression for some time, but it came back to haunt me the other day when I was earnestly explaining to one of my clients the importance of posting regularly on one’s company blog.

“Having a blog on your website is an ideal way of providing useful information for your customers and showing them how your product or service can help them,” I heard myself say enthusiastically.

As soon as these worldly words of wisdom were out of my mouth, a horrible nagging doubt arose in my mind as to how long ago it might be since I had last blogged on my company website. And I suspected (rightly, as it transpired…) that the answer wasn’t one I wanted to hear.

A quick check revealed that I’ve been so busy these past few months writing copy to populate other people’s websites and blogs that I’ve been neglecting my own. That’s what brought to mind the poor shoemaker’s offspring, whose shoes never received any attention because their industrious dad spent all his time repairing his customers’ footwear.

My sudden realisation galvanised me into immediate action and it wasn’t difficult to find inspiration for a relevant post, having only this week come across another host of examples of why it’s dangerous to rely on the Spellchecker function when you’re writing a document in Word.

Some philosopher (possibly the same one who coined the cobbler analogy) once suggested that a picture is worth a thousand words, so to prove my point I’m sharing several photos of real-life examples that highlight words to watch out for when you’re typing your next report or sales pitch.

As you’ll see, just one missing or incorrectly positioned letter can change what you’re saying entirely, and because the words in question here are still recognised dictionary words, such errors have to be spotted by the human rather than the automaton eye – particularly if you’re reading an article that you’ve been slaving over for hours and can hardly focus on any more.

If you come across any other examples of similar words in cunning disguises, feel free to share them on our Euroword Facebook Page. After all, forewarned is forearmed!