Estimates vary widely about how many marketing messages and advertisements a person sees daily. The number really isn’t that important though, as most of us would simply say we see WAY too many. In addition, when those messages are filled with clutter and meaningless words, we have a hard time picking out and remembering the highlights.
Stronger messaging begins with one simple habit: editing for clarity. Many churches get their announcements, newsletter articles, posters and social posts from several people in the church. With all of those varying styles, it can be tough for a staff member in charge of communications to bring clarity, especially if that staff member works part-time or is not a strong writer.
Yet there are simple things anyone can do to write more effective, clear copy. For example, using tools such as Hemmingway App or Grammarly can help everyone improve their writing. Still, even decent writers overuse a few phrases in their publicity, posters, facebook events and other communications. Here are five I bet you’ll recognize from your own efforts.
“Save the Date”
If you’re writing about an event that has not yet happened and you want people to attend, by default you want people to “save the date.” It is an unnecessary and boring phrase for an action that should be obvious.
This very phrase sparked the idea for this post. I saw a church poster (shared via facebook) that used it in a giant headline at the top. The actual details of the event were much smaller and unreadable when the image was shared on facebook. All I remember now about that poster was that giant heading that told me nothing.
Remember, you’re not inviting people to save a date on their calendar. You’re inviting them to some (hopefully meaningful, important, even life-changing) event. Give that your focus.
Related phrases: Coming soon.
Try This Instead: Always put the essentials (such as the date, time and place) in their own section rather than embedding them in a paragraph. By doing so, you’ll highlight and bring focus to the details.
The people you are hoping to reach are often overwhelmed with email. If you send out a digital newsletter, you are asking people to commit to reading something for a significant period of time. As a result, many people on your list will simply scroll past your message, thinking they may get to it later. Based on typical open rates for church newsletters, the odds are they won’t do so.
In print form, the word “newsletter” is generally unnecessary. It is likely already clear from the format that a publication is, essentially, a letter full of news. Strike the word, and instead give your publication a creative name.
Related words and phrases: Weekly email; e-news
Try this instead: Personalize the email subject by using the merge feature of your email tool to start the subject line with the recipient’s first name. Then, briefly but creatively highlight the one or two most interesting or important stories inside. Example: “Anna, did you hear about our Easter services this year? Details plus more news inside.”
This one is bound to irk a few people, but it needs to be said. Churches who love and overuse this phrase are likely unclear about the actual meaning of the word, “Everyone.” Sometimes, they’re also unclear about what it really means to be welcomed, which is to be offered generous and even extravagant hospitality.
I know this might be hard for some people reading this to hear, but it is exceptionally rare that “everyone” is actually invited. Sometimes this is because you lack adequate facilities or classes for persons with disabilities. Perhaps it’s because you really only mean “parents with unusually well-behaved kids.” In many churches, it’s because the experience of LGBTQ people has been that they are not fully loved and valued.
The reasons why churches like this phrase aren’t hard to understand, of course. The sentiment of the phrase is simple and important: this event is open to all. Realistically, though, your events are at their best when they are targeted towards a particular group, whether that’s parents with young children, seniors who are single, people who don’t feel like cooking on Wednesday nights, or black cat lovers. Trust me, if your event is for black cat lovers (and I am one of them), all are not actually welcome.
Related phrases: All are welcome; You are welcome; All are invited; You’re invited
Try This Instead: Use testimonials from a participant or a quote from a volunteer to add credibility and authenticity to your message. People respond to people better than they do to generic invitations. Most importantly, get better as a church at being welcoming, all the time, for real.
“Check it Out”
Check out our new class! Check out our latest T-shirt! Check out our renovated bathroom! (Yep, I really saw that one once.) Check out me, checking out.
Look, I understand why you use phrases like these. (And full disclosure: I have no doubt that I’ve probably used this phrase in an Aboundant blog post before.) Your goal is to get people to take action and do something.
However, the question to always keep before you as you write promotional copy is this: “What’s the benefit that would make someone want to check it out?” If the benefit is clear and strong already, you don’t need to badger anyone.
Not clear about what the benefit of an activity or event is? Then you either are likely wasting people’s time, or you need to think about the event from the perspective of the person you’re inviting.
Related words and phrases: Announcing; Take a look; New!
Try This Instead: Creative photos, thought-provoking statistics, and fresh takes on familiar subjects don’t go out of style. Can you add some spice to your copy rather than using tired old descriptions?
Don’t forget to check out our lastest blog post! Don’t forget to sign up to bring the Johnson family a meal! Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead this weekend! And don’t forget to add an exclamation point at the end of every sentence you start with “don’t forget”!
Let’s make this simple: if you’re publicizing an event, you are by nature implying it is important enough for someone to take some type of action. So if you want someone to sign up, say so. If you want people to read something, give them the link and tell them to take two minutes now to read it. If you want people remember that you’re changing your worship schedule for the summer, tell them to put the date in their calendar now.
Humans are both busy and forgetful (at least, that has been my own experience, based on the 52 tabs currently open in my browser!) What we need is NOT a reminder of the fact that we’re apt to forget important things. Instead, we need to know what action to take NOW, not later – even if that action is “add a reminder to your Reminders app.”
Related Phrases: Remember to; Take note
Try This Instead: Make a habit of reading every post, newsletter article, poster, web page, and email you create to make sure you have any necessary “call to action” in it. It should be crystal clear what you want readers to do right now…not eventually.
Go find the digital version of your most recent worship bulletin and/or church publication. Perform a search to see if you can find any of these five phrases:
- Save the Date
- Church Newsletter
- Everyone’s Welcome
- Check it Out
- Don’t Forget
If you come across one of these, pause to consider some alternative ways you could have gotten your message across. This 5-minute exercise will help you to learn to pay attention to the importance of clarity within your editing process, which in turn should lead to better-informed readers.