Candlepower

Ad and marketing creatives

Copywriting Case Study: Selling a Secret

Here's the latest case study of real-life copywriting in action graciously sent to us by Sarah Williams, the head of Wordsmith in England. Thanks, Sarah! (Check out our interview with her here.)

The project:
Oxford University is renowned throughout the world for the quality of its education and the beauty of its buildings. Less well known, however, is that each of the colleges of the university is its own independent organization, with an obligation, where possible, to raise revenue for the college. This is often done by hiring out the college facilities for conferences, seminars and other functions when the students don't need them -- evenings, vacations, weekends.

Wordsmith was approached by St Hilda's College, Oxford, to entirely re-think and re-write their conference brochure, in order to attract as wide a range of users as possible to hire the facilities.

How we went about it:
The first thing to do was to find out in detail about what it was we were being asked to market -- so, oh woe, we had to go and spend a day being shown over the college and grounds. We saw inside and out, up and down, though we did, reluctantly, draw the line at floating down the Cherwell on one of the college punts...

The problem, as we saw it, was that not all the information about the facilities at St Hilda's would be of interest to all those making enquiries -- if you are seeking to arrange a wedding, you're not really going to want to know about seminar rooms, and if you're staging a concert, you probably won't be all that interested in the sports field. Working with the designer, we suggested a brochure cover with an envelope, so that different details could be printed on separate sheets and slipped into the brochure as appropriate.

Once this was agreed, the next step was to establish an overall tone for the whole brochure, with 'sub-languages' for the different inserts. As befitting one of the least known of all the Oxford colleges, set in one of the loveliest riverside spots just two minutes from the heart of the city, the overall tone was lyrical. Those arranging corporate events or enquiring about accommodation for a conference needed something more direct and down-to-earth. The tone thus varied from "Special occasions call for special settings, and there are few more special than the secret jewel that is St Hilda's College, Oxford. Graceful, functional buildings are set in elegant gardens, the river Cherwell meanders through the grounds, the spires and towers of Oxford can be glimpsed across the meadows?" (Meetings, dinners and functions insert) to "There are times when it's good to get your team away from it all, whether to reward them for goals achieved or to prepare them for challenges to come?" (Training, team building and corporate events insert).

The outcome:
The finished brochure, rich with beautiful photographs of the college buildings and grounds, and with the various inserts directed at specific markets and particular enquiries, has proved a great success, both with the college staff and with those enquiring about the facilities. If you'd like to have a look at the brochure in more detail -- or book the facilities for a conference or wedding of your own, the final outcome can be seen here.


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Sarah Williams is founder and managing director of the international copywriting company Wordsmith, based in Oxfordshire, UK. She taught in universities, and then moved out of the academic world into book publishing, running the English office of the biggest French children's book publisher. During this time she wrote and published a number of children's books. She eventually became a full time freelance writer, and has published over 80 books. About five years ago, Sarah set up Wordsmith, a copywriting company providing intelligent, responsive answers to marketing needs. Click here to read more articles by Sarah Williams.

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