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Copywriter Confessions

Updated on September 25, 2012

Council money is OUR money. It could and should be spent MUCH better!

Council money is ratepayer money; our money. I've found a way to save Australian local councils a total of six million dollars per year, every year, forever.

That's six million bucks of extra trees, bike paths, meals on wheels, youth centres, child care places - whatever you like. My plan is simple, proven and self-funding. Its effect is immediate and we can start now.

What would I know?

I'm a specialist copywriter. In 20 years I've written recruitment ads to fill job vacancies for 1000 organisations of every size and sector.

Some time ago, I was asked to look at a draft ad for a Melbourne council. It contained ten roles and was going to cost $12,500 in media. A few hours later, I'd reduced the ad's word count by 46% with no loss of relevant content. This saved the council $5,800 in media expense.

I've since found that local councils use some of the least efficient recruitment ads in the country. I've rarely seen a council ad that couldn't be cut by 20-50% without loss of meaning.

A better way.

Instead of saying 'You will be responsible for the provision of effective leadership to team members' (12 words), I write 'You'll lead a team' (4 words).

Instead of saying 'Applications must be received by no later than 5:00pm on Tuesday, July 18, 2006' (14 words), I write 'Apply by 18/07/06' (3 words). Both examples save over 75%.

When I read Don Watson's 'Death Sentence' and 'Dictionary of Weasel Words' I saw I wasn't alone in my thinking. Nor is inefficient council writing confined to recruitment ads. It affects tender notices, newsletters, job descriptions, policy manuals, websites, the works.

'But', you cry, 'It's just a few words: you're a nit-picking, pedantic, semantic fanatic!' This is true, so let's consider the cost of not being that.

Media space can be booked in 'column lines' and a column line fits around five words. Melbourne's Saturday Age charges $12.68 per column line, which means every fifth (and in my opinion unnecessary) word costs about $2.50. This figure rises dramatically for large, bold fonts.

One big ad agency I work with says their council clients spend $50,000 to $170,000 per year on media. Australia has well over 600 councils. So, if just 600 councils spend the minimum of $50,000 on media each year, that's $30M. My minimum 20% word count reduction therefore makes an instant $6M annual saving.

But good recruitment ads do far more than simply reduce media costs. An 80-word ad that says the same thing as a 100-word ad is 20% clearer.

In a shrinking talent market, the employees councils desperately need already have work. These 'passive' job seekers give recruitment ads a fleeting glance at best. Waste their time with padding and they're gone.

As our economy booms, councils have it harder than most employers because (A) many are outside the big cities and (B) they can't offer the same salary as private sector firms. The last thing they can afford is for their ad to be ignored.

Next time you're in a town hall, ask if they need planners, engineers or aged care staff. If they don't, I'll eat my hat.

Worse than failing to fill a vacancy is filling it with the wrong person. If they leave, you start again (and most organisations reckon this costs up to twenty grand a pop). If they stay, they can produce incompetent work, miserable colleagues and unhappy customers for years.

The beauty of deleting drivel is that you can replace it with facts that job seekers find intensely interesting. Many councils offer 12% superannuation, annual pay rises, 17.5% annual leave loading, rostered days off and a swag of other benefits private sector staff haven't enjoyed for decades.

The trouble is, council ads are so busy saying 'An exciting opportunity has arisen for an enthusiastic, self-motivated professional to join the team in our dynamic blah, blah, blah...' there's no room to mention the amazing working conditions, family friendly policies or magical work/life balance. Let alone the chance to literally build a better community through varied, stimulating and rewarding council work.

Local councils are just the start. If clear, concise writing were applied to all communications at all government tiers, the benefits would be phenomenal. Imagine the resource and media savings.

More importantly, imagine the greater understanding enjoyed by the people these bodies are meant to serve: you and me.

My team and I are ready to start today with council recruitment ads. As Les Patterson might say, 'Are you with me?'

Know your audience & communicate accordingly!

Know your audience & communicate accordingly!
Know your audience & communicate accordingly!

I warmly welcome your feedback; knock yourself out!

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    • PaulHassing LM profile image

      Paul Hassing 7 years ago

      @darciefrench lm: And I'm learing about very generous commenters! Thank you, Darcie! :)

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 7 years ago

      I'm learning a great deal about copywriting- thanks Paul -:)

    • PaulHassing LM profile image

      Paul Hassing 7 years ago

      @anonymous: Alas no. Of the 642 councils I contacted, only a handful have got the message. Mind you, those that are working with me are having a much better time finding and keeping top people! I hope one day the others will follow suit. Thanks for your comment. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Ah, but is anybody at the Council listening?

    • Amy Fricano profile image

      Amy Fricano 7 years ago from WNY

      love it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      This very good. I'm going to have to come back when I'm not sitting outside using my notebook. I'll give you a couple of links for this lens Paul. Great writing! BBL!

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 8 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      Very nice lens and so true. Here in the UK, council ads read much like those you quoted.

    • profile image

      s_j77 8 years ago

      thanks for posting! being a copywriter is really a challenging task but the rewards are fulfilling!

    • GypsyOwl profile image

      Deb Bryan 8 years ago from Chico California

      Happy Australia Day Paul! Your copywriter tips are remarkable. Kindest regards, GypsyOwl

    • PaulHassing LM profile image

      Paul Hassing 9 years ago

      Thank you all for your kind feedback. It really makes this activity worth while! Best regards, P. :)

    • Tammylove profile image

      Tammylove 9 years ago

      One of my favorite sayings to my children is "Sometimes less is more". It just seems to fit here!

    • ZenandChic profile image

      Patricia 9 years ago

      Great lens! Nice to meet you!

    • profile image

      Tarra99 9 years ago

      Great lens...very informative read...I enjoyed it! 5*

      ...thanks by the way for stopping by and visiting my steampunk lens.

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment on it!

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 9 years ago

      great lens and great information! thanks for sharing...5*

    • profile image

      jpetals 9 years ago

      The examples you provide are very specific and show exactly how talented you are. I have always struggled with being wordy... but four years at business school smacked that out of me. However, on sites like Squidoo in the comments area, I like to ramble and make it more of a story.

      Copywriting is a skill I need to hone and I appreciate your lens!


    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 9 years ago

      Words are powerful tools but sometimes too many words can over power.

      Great lens


    • PaulHassing LM profile image

      Paul Hassing 9 years ago

      Thank you, Dr-Cornelius. I never knew there was an art to this caper. But 20 years of seeing ads succeed and fail have convinced me there's a right way. I think Squidoo could be the place to pass on what I've learned. Watch this space! P. :)

    • profile image

      Dr-Cornelius 9 years ago

      Wow - really interesting Paul. I've had to place ads in the past and just didn't think about it from this perspective.

    • PaulHassing LM profile image

      Paul Hassing 9 years ago

      Many thanks for your kind feedback, JaguarJulie. I agree there's much to be done. I'll definitely follow your advice, as I've seen how effective it can be! Best regards, P. :)

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 9 years ago

      Ah, a guy after my own heart ... I particularly like the 'knock yourself out' as I grew up hearing that a lot don't you know and Mom still throws that and other zingers my way to keep me alert from time-to-time. Might I suggest that you break up that indepth content titled 'How to save Australian local councils $6,000,000 per year, every year, forever.' Perhaps spice it up with a couple of counting sheep? ;)