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The easy way never to run out of copy ideas

Think you’ve got nothing to say? Think again.

[Image courtesy of Colleen Lane at Flickr Creative Commons]

The web is a hungry beast and needs constant feeding. Gone are the days when you could optimise your site, publish and forget. In a world where change is the only constant, you can never stand still.

It doesn’t matter how good your content is if it’s not changing. Because other people are busy stoking the fires of their word mill, and cranking out content night and day. 

The trouble is, where do you find a constant supply of ideas? Surely, sooner or later, you’ve said everything you need to? If you’ve reached that point, remember what George Bernard Shaw once said about newspapers: it’s amazing how there’s always enough news on any given day to fill them.

(He also said, “Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization”. But let’s leave that to one side for the moment.)

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In Shaw’s observation lies a clue to a never-ending stream of material. Everything is newsworthy. You just have to make it interesting enough, and people will read it. 

Which brings us nicely to your content. And everybody else’s. Because I’m sure you’ve had one of those moments when you scratch your head and wonder what you have left to say. Or if what you have to say is even worth saying at all. 

We all have those moments – it’s just that the clever ones don’t pause for thought. They simply think like a journo and find an angle.

It’s what the tutor said several years ago to me at  City University in London when I went on a feature-writing course. Nothing is new, she told us. You just have to make it seem so. 

So how do you do that with your copy? How do you find an angle, make the ordinary seem extraordinary and keep people reading? 

  • Re-purpose existing content. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve done this for clients. In case you’re wondering what re-purpose means, it’s simply a guilt-free alternative to re-use. Which is essentially what you’re doing. I’ve turned a case study into a press release, and vice versa. A report into a blog post. A general-interest news story into a piece about how Company X can help clients deal with just such a situation. The list of possibilities is endless. All it takes is a little imagination. 
  • Copy somebody else. All out of ideas? Simply google few key words or phrases and see what somebody else has written. And when you see it, don’t think OK, it’s been done. They got there first. Yes, they did, but remember, it’s been done by them, with their angle. So take it as a starting point, and turn it into your story, with your angle. Me-too is everywhere – just look at all the EL James wannabes who’ve sprung up – so stop talking (to yourself) and start doing, as IBM once said.
  • Check out the calendar. Just recently, I wrote a piece on internet security and was looking for a ‘hook’, which is what editors want to see in a story. This was for a blog, but the principle is the same. Why this? Why now? What’s the relevance? And for me, the hook was just a little light searching away. It was exactly one year since eBay’s 145m users had their details compromised in a security breach, and had to change their passwords. What better time, I started, to revisit security than on the anniversary… You see how easy it is? Newspapers, websites and magazines are full of features linked to anniversaries: births, deaths, marriages, catastrophes, inventions, battles, treaties. So jump on the date bandwagon, and you’re well on the way to a story.
  • Change your point of view. Remember one of the golden rules of copywriting: it’s not about you, it’s about them. So forget what you think is important, and find out what they’re talking about. Hang out in forums, on Facebook and Twitter. See what’s hot and what’s not for people, then create content that directly addresses what they’re talking about. And here’s the clever bit: when you’ve done so, be sure to publicise your content in the very place where you found the idea in the first place. The people there are a dream audience, and the content is tailored exactly to their needs. But move fast, as hot topics can go cold very quickly.
  • Break it down. Stories are often complex and multi-faceted, and good content can often be submerged in a sea of detail. But there’s a simple solution: instead of overwhelming your reader with one big story, why not break it down into several, bite-sized ones? They get something they can easily read and digest. You get several blog posts (or articles, press releases, emails) instead of one. Two problems solved, and everybody wins. 

With a little thought and ingenuity, you’ll never run out of ideas. As always, it comes down to planning and creative thinking. When it’s all been said before, you simply have to find a new way to say it. Of taking the marketing morsels what you already have and repackaging them as a tasty meal to feed the web beast.

Everybody else does it, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t too. Especially now that you have the recipe.