Maybe public servants should attend marketing training and stay for the duration…

Recently I was invited to tender to write the copy for a regional tourism website in NSW. The brief was strange to say the least.

A wireframe or site map were not available. This, as you would guess dear reader, makes it a tad difficult to estimate the amount of writing to be done for the job.

Sadly the brief included personas, though curiously no reference to whether they were right or left-handed. The personas are just a manufactured marketing label describing the typical prospect. You know what they’re like – they never use language used by humans. Whoever invented the term “persona” needs to be <fill in the blank>.

It gets better. The required outcomes for the copy were:

  • Increased website traffic and engagement with social channels
  • Improved user experience
  • Increased lead generation
  • Increased response rates via offers and calls to action
  • Increase lead conversion
  • Increase database – number of subscribers and social media sign up

All of these have everything to do with how well the site is promoted. The copy will help deliver the results, but only when people get to the site. Nothing was given regarding promotion of the site.

A brand style guide was also supplied – and it spoke volumes. Here are four headlines from the guide for the STATIONERY section. Obviously editing or proofing are not big priorities:

It appeared both the agency that developed the style guide and the marketing people who commissioned and use it at the council, are standing still when it comes to detail. Not much care factor.

It reminded me of a seminar I once ran in Canberra. It was about direct marketing and copywriting. The majority of the delegates were from the Commonwealth, and the ACT public services.

The seminar was advertised to run from 9am to 5pm. But at 4pm, something strange started to happen. Most of the delegates started to check their watches and fidgeting in their seats. By 4.15pm they were packing their bags. At exactly 4.21pm they stood up to leave.

My day is done, I’m not here to learn…

When I asked them what they were doing, they answered in unison “we’re not paid to work past 4.21pm, so we’re going home“. I argued that the seminar went til 5pm and the tickets had been paid for by their department for them to attend until 5pm. One assumes the tickets were bought on the understanding the delegates would attend the full day.

It was like I was living in a parallel universe speaking an alien language. These public servants could not comprehend “working” outside the hours they were being paid. It was a foreign concept.

Bugger the fact they might learn something to help their careers. They viewed attending a seminar, not as professional development, but just another way to spend time to get a pay packet – without a care about the details.

I did run until 5pm and those that stayed thanked me for doing so. But to say I was gobsmacked would be an understatement. Others might say I was naive.

Then today, as I was writing this article, I received this email. I get regular requests like this because I run a “content team” for an online publisher.

Hello there!
I’m writing from Destination Blah. Destination Blah is the lead government agency for the Blah tourism and major events sector. We have two key consumer websites – and

I’m reaching out to see if you’re currently accepting guest posts on your site? We have a content team dedicated to providing accurate and thorough information about different areas of Blah, and we would love the opportunity to share our experiences with the area.

I look forward to hearing what you think, and discussing further.

Best regards,

Blah Digital Team

This is depressing in soo many ways:

1. The email starts in the personal (I’m writing) then moves to the plural (we have a content team…we would love…) then back to singular (I look forward…) It doesn’t build confidence in Blah’s content team’s writing skills.
2. The final sentence said ” I look forward to hearing …” but the signature file is not a person, it’s a phrase – Blah Digital Team.
3. The cardinal rule of email marketing is “teams never send emails” – individuals do. I’ve written about this before.
4. “…we would love the opportunity to share our experiences with the area.” Share your experiences with what area?
5. The only time you should ever use “reach out” is if you are singing with the Four Tops – “reach out I’ll be there”. You risk offending people when you try to “reach out” to them. It’s such a creepy phrase.

The only time “Reach Out” should be used in business…

But back to the copywriting tender. I did submit a simple proposal based on the “brief”, though without much expectation. Even included at no extra cost, hiring a final year marketing degeree student from the town’s university, as part of my “Auld Head – Young Shoulders” programme. It gives undergraduates and graduates paid work experience, at excellent value for clients.

The date passed when the successful tenderer was announced. It took three days of chasing past the announcement date to get an answer. We didn’t get the business, but wasn’t surprised. Apparently the job was awarded to a PR agency.

Hope they can proofread…or maybe it’s not a required outcome?


  1. Sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic courtesy of Aristotle. What? A modern marketing idea invented over 2,000 years ago? Noooo, I don’t believe it, persona’s were invented yesterday shortly after I arrived.

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