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Communications craft

Booby prize for structure

By Communications craft, content, Story, Structure, Uncategorized, What's out there now
Periodically, you see an article that is completely devoid of any structure, and it is running in a quality broadsheet, which makes it all the more puzzling. The following article is written by Daisy Goodwin, an established screenwriter credited for Victoria, but it seems in this piece, she’s all about plugging her book and to hell with any real coherence.
If you were to analyse where it goes wrong structurally, it’s that there isn’t a clear question or problem developed, in the second beat.
The line: “Can I, as a woman in my seventh decade, expose my chest with a straight face?” seems like it’s the question being posed, but immediately after this line, the question is dismissed with “another issue” which then muddies the waters. So because there’s never a clear question developed the whole piece comes over as a complete ramble.
When it was first published comments were allowed, all of the comments were negative and complaining of the narcism of the writer. The level of complaint was very high so Times Newspapers presumably closed down the comment section as a way of managing the onslaught. Which suggests that lack of structure is the easiest way to irritate your readers.

Daisy Goodwin: how my breasts made headlines this year

The writer and TV producer has no regrets about naming the man she accuses of sexually assaulting her in Downing Street. It sparked a debate about women and power in politics — and forced her to think again about her own body

Daisy Goodwin, wearing her Jasper Conran dress, photographed in the Revery Bar at London Hilton on Park Lane
Daisy Goodwin, wearing her Jasper Conran dress, photographed in the Revery Bar at London Hilton on Park Lane
The Times

It is the perfect dress, black, belted, pocketed and with a square neckline reminiscent of a Renoir barmaid. It fits perfectly and I couldn’t be happier, except for one or rather two problems. That exquisite square neckline is cut to reveal a great deal of what my father calls embonpoint. It is a dress that demands a heavily engineered bra and a Marilyn smile. In short, it is a dress designed to show off what used to be called “my assets”. And therein lies the rub. I love the dress, but there is something about the decolletage that makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel as if I am indulging in a kind of performative femininity: Elizabeth Taylor in her pomp, any Jane Austen adaptation or even RuPaul’s Drag Race. Can I, as a woman in my seventh decade, expose my chest with a straight face? And then, of course, there is another issue…

Six months ago my bosom became briefly famous as the object of the unwanted touch of a man who was running to be the Conservative candidate for London mayor. We had met at Downing Street to talk about reality TV in 2013, but our conversation had ended not in a handshake but a grope. It was an encounter that I laughed off at the time, thinking that this man, although he was more than ten years younger than me, was very much on the wrong side of history.

But in the wake of the #MeToo movement I realised that I had done my daughters’ generation a disservice by not speaking out, and in 2017 I wrote about the encounter in Radio Times without naming the man in question. I woke up the next morning to find that most of the newspapers running the story had found pictures of me that emphasised my “assets” to put on their front page. While nobody would be foolish enough to say it in print, the picture editors had found a way of suggesting that I might be asking for it.

• Daisy Goodwin: Why I’m naming the man who groped me at No 10
• Whitehall won’t investigate Daniel Korski groping claim

Perhaps I am being unduly sensitive, but when I decided to name Daniel Korski as the man who had groped me in No 10, I made sure that the newspaper carrying the story used a picture of me that did
not involve my breasts. And to be fair most of the media outlets that reported the story subsequently made the effort to find pictures that made no implicit comment. I think one of the many reasons that so few women speak out about sexual harassment and assault is because they don’t want their breasts, buttocks or thighs to become public property in that sense. In many ways, it feels like a second assault.

All these thoughts go through my mind as I try on the dress for this photoshoot. As I angle my body towards the camera according to the photographer’s instructions, I wonder why I don’t mind posing in this way and yet feel uncomfortable when a similar picture is used to accompany the story of the special adviser who groped me. The answer, I think, is context. A picture of me that is used to accompany something that I have written has a very different meaning from that same picture when it is used to illustrate a story about me. The picture that accompanies this story is published with my consent because it is germane to the story — use this same picture to accompany an article about women who have made accusations of sexual harassment and it is taken out of context. Just as an intimate selfie sent to a lover is a token of affection, but when published online it becomes an assault.

But I admit it is a tricky line to hold. When I look at the Insta accounts of my daughter and her friends, which are full of bikini selfies, I wonder how these pictures will look to future employers or in-laws. On the other hand, what is wrong with young women celebrating their perfect bodies? I may have qualms about who is looking at the picture of my daughter and why, but that shouldn’t stop her doing it if that is what she wants to do. I don’t want women to feel the need to self-censor images of themselves because there might be people out there who construe these pictures as a come-on.

Young women are quick to call out any comments on their clothes by an older generation as slut-shaming — and they are right to do so. We are, I hope, beyond the times when women were banned from Royal Ascot or refused a table at El Vino for wearing trousers. It’s interesting that today, when dress becomes an issue in the corporate sphere, it is invariably because women don’t want to wear the traditional feminine trappings of high heels, skirts or make-up.

I grew up in the Seventies at a time when androgyny of the Diane Keaton in Annie Hall variety, all waistcoats and wide-leg trousers, was in vogue. For someone with curves this was not an achievable look. It was the advent of Madonna that made a more feminine silhouette fashionable. I spent most of my youth happily wearing short skirts and baggy jumpers, but I would have felt horribly exposed wearing a low-cut top, even if my skirt was practically a belt.

The difference between my teenage underwear drawer and that of my younger daughter is telling — I only had two bras, both of them rather serviceable, while my daughter has about 20 of what can only be called “confections”. When she goes out, her “assets” are clearly displayed and she looks great. She has a body confidence of which I could only have dreamt at her age. I suppose if you grow up in an era where you are constantly looking at images of yourself, you learn quickly what looks good.

Elizabeth Taylor with her fourth husband, Eddie Fisher, in the early Sixties
Elizabeth Taylor with her fourth husband, Eddie Fisher, in the early Sixties

I started buying better bras after having children and sporting a cleavage seemed to be some compensation for the depredations motherhood had wrought on other parts of my body. Breastfeeding left me several cup sizes bigger — like most British women, I had no idea how to find the right size, thinking I was a 36C when I was really a 34EE. For some reason, I felt much less self-conscious about wearing low-cut tops once I was a mother — it feels less outlandish when you are carrying a baby on your hip.

But I always put them away at work. The corporate cleavage world of Karren Brady or, whisper it, Baroness Mone was not for me. The world of TV production is definitely dress-down. Wearing a low-cut top feels a bit Stringfellows when everyone else is either dressed like kd lang or a midwestern mom blogger in cowboy boots and a prairie dress.

On the day I visited No 10, I was wearing a jacket over a dress. There was nothing about my outfit that could be construed as anything other than businesslike. But that is the point. Men who harass or assault women are not motivated by lust. They are not provoked by short skirts or revealing necklines — the urge to touch a breast or slap a bottom comes from the desire to humiliate and belittle. Harassment has nothing to do with attraction and everything to do with power. It is about showing a woman who’s boss.

The only thing that guarantees women’s safety is the education of men. Today’s students may squirm at the idea of consent classes, but in a world where every permutation of porn is available online, there are probably a lot of young men who need reminding that, in real life with real women, different rules apply. I know mothers who say that their sons are too scared to break up with their girlfriends because they are terrified of making an approach to a new woman in case they get it wrong. I find that quite hard to believe. If true, though, it only approximates to the risk that every woman takes when she finds herself alone with a new man.

As a married woman in midlife, I don’t have to negotiate the delicate power dynamics of modern dating. Even so, when I put on my perfect black dress, I do feel transgressive — is this pouting creature in heels and a slash of red lipstick really me? Or am I the woman in the cardigan and boots who spends all day in the library? Am I betraying my novelist/screenwriter/producer/professional woman credentials by going glam? My gay best friend, and coincidentally the designer of the perfect dress, Jasper Conran, has no doubts at all: “Why wouldn’t you want to look gorgeous?”

Madonna in her iconic Jean Paul Gaultier conical bra, 1990
Madonna in her iconic Jean Paul Gaultier conical bra, 1990

It’s not a question I can answer. I suppose there is a part of me that feels that perhaps I should be over the teenage obsession with how I look and the effect it has on other people. But then I go to a party full of people I have known since my schooldays and the men tell me I look great and the women ask me where I got the dress — except for one who asked me if I was cold. I go home feeling pleasantly buoyant. It feels good to be looked at with admiration and, no, I don’t feel cold at all.

There is no hetero male equivalent of cleavage. I can honestly say that my eyes have never lingered longingly on a man in tight trousers. A manly chest is appealing, but you don’t often find them at the kind of parties I go to. But even if the man standing next to me at a social event removed his shirt to reveal a chest like Channing Tatum’s, I wouldn’t think, “Oh, he must want me to run my hand through his chest hair.” I wouldn’t want to fondle his black Amex card either. Women from Mary Magdalene onwards have no problem with the concept of noli me tangere — touch me not.

My daughter loves my new dress and finds all my qualms about age and signals absurd. “If you’ve got it, Mum, flaunt it.”

When I explain my concerns about the semiotics of my bosom (not a sentence I ever thought I would write), Jasper sighs and speaks slowly, as if to a child that is slow on the uptake. “Imagine that you are the Mona Lisa, safely tucked away behind bulletproof glass. Everyone goes to the Louvre to look at the Mona Lisa, but look is all they are allowed to do. If they touch the painting, all hell breaks loose.” I give him an enigmatic smile in return.

But he is absolutely right. Just as women should speak out whenever a male hand lingers uninvited, so they should have the right to wear whatever they like, wherever they go. Nobody, particularly not men, should be policing women’s clothes. I don’t have piercings, inkings or wear anything see-through, but I would defend any woman’s right to do so unmolested. And as for cleavage, a few years ago I had a tumour cut out of one breast, so I have decided to be grateful that I have a decolletage at all.

Daniel Korski denies touching Daisy Goodwin inappropriately. He dropped out
of the race to become the Conservative London mayoral candidate

Daisy Goodwin’s new novel, Diva (Aria, £20), is published on March 14. To order a copy go to or call 020 3176 2935. Free UK standard P&P on online orders over £25. Discount for Times+ members

Arnie’s war message to the other Terminator

By Communications craft, Story, Structure, Uncategorized

Arnie Schwartzennegger ‘s stirring speech starts with his story of his first hero, the Russian weightlifter Yuri Vlasov, and finishes up with his new heroes protesting at the Ukrainian war. It’s beautifully constructed, as you’d expect from anyone with impeccable Hollywood credentials. It shows how a story within the storyline can be used to not make it feel like a celeb lecturing anybody.

So much better than a 404.

By Brand, Communications craft, Funny, Tone, Uncategorized, What's out there now

For anyone who has ever typed in the wrong URL address, the number 404 will spring to mind. In the beginning of the internet, some twenty odd years ago, a number was all you got: a bald 404 referring presumably to an error code.  Some slightly more enlightened sites added a little more to the experience: “You’ve 404’d, dude.” The line still assumed a tech knowledge that was beyond most people at the time.

Gradually companies who cared just a little more about their customers reading experience wrote a few emollient words to help assuage the pain of error and feeling lost in cyberspace.  But the Telegraph, which seems to be a class act in terms of its user experience seems to have done a lot better. A simple cartoon by Matt which is suitably funny and on point. 


By Communications craft, content, Funny, Uncategorized

“Did you threatent to overrule him?” The famous question that Paxman asked 14 times before the lack of answer gave the answer away. Bluster is often a sign something isn’t truthful. Whether you’re a journalist or a copywriter you need to have the persistence to get behind the bluster and find the truth.

The magic wand question

By Communications craft, Nudge, Uncategorized

Rather than asking “What are you trying to say?”, it helps if you ask: “If you had a magic wand what is it that you’d ideally like to achieve?” For example, one of the most useless messages in the world is “Give up smoking!”

So if you stop and ask what are you trying to achieve, the answer is obviously helping people to give up smoking. You then decide what you have to say in order to achieve that. The magic wand question focuses people on the change in behaviour, not the message. Creating the right message is a seperate part of the process.
You might come up with a much more powerful piece of communication than just “Give up smoking!” You might approach it from a more strategic direction, like this campaign by Richard Foster at AMV BBDO to make people become responsible for passive smoking.

This process also allows you to break down a mammoth task into much more manageable chunks. For example,  create a patch trial initiative, as one part in a four part process. In which case your change in behaviour is picking up a patch from the chemist. Once you give up the notion that’s there’s something to say, and think in terms of a change in behaviour by things you can say, you can become a better communicator.

When you’re writing Case studies start with Warts n’ All

By Case Study, Communications craft, Uncategorized

Anyone tasked with updating their company website will recognise the numerous problems that come with writing case histories.

There are your best case histories from five years ago, whose important features now look stale or no longer relevant to the problems of today.

Then there are other case histories which while showing brilliance on the part of your organisation remain so classified and secret you can’t breathe a word of the brilliance to anyone.

And there are still more case histories which while very good are quite incomplete or partial. Somehow telling them seems to feel like the story ended too soon, or started too late or other players did the important chunks of it and thereby stole the thunder.

It’s often very difficult to curate a decent show from what’s left, after you’ve culled the ones that won’t see the light of day. The result is many case histories become short and inconclusive; others are hard to follow, and leave a reader, or new business prospect, none the wiser.

So how do you create convincing, engaging case histories that don’t drop anyone in it and feel like they belong to today?

Write 3 seperate drafts

One really simple approach is to split the task into two or three clear and distinct phases, each of which needs its own mind-set.

The first mindset you’ll need is an investigative historian or journalist.

Use this to write a Warts-and-All version first, on the sacred internal understanding that you’re showing it to absolutely no-one externally. But get a case or set of cases written so they’re clear, readable and true without having to worry about other considerations. If necessary, interview the people involved with a tape recorder so you can fully concentrate on what they’re telling you and ask questions that probe what really happened.

Then, when that’s done change your hat to that of a doctor; rewrite your Warts and All text as a sanitised version.

Change the client names, the product names, the industries.

No confidences betrayed, no clients made to look stupid. Transforming it in that way isn’t always a straightforward task but it’s much easier to do when you’re at least clear about what actually happened.

After you’ve written the sanitised version you are free to go one step further.

The hat you need now is a dramatist and or teacher.

You can work backwards from what clients have started to ask the business for. This is the idealised version where you combine different elements of cases that you’ve successfully managed in the past and bring them together so demonstrate solving the problems of today.

Make up the presenting problem, roll two elements from different cases into one, exclude confusing subplots, streamline the story. Do what ever it takes so the story while not literally true is authentic. You may need to write a disclaimer for this, but your audience will usually understand this automatically anyway, just from the genre.

There may never have been a case exactly like this but all the essential features are your company’s bread and butter. The fluency with which you describe the cases communicates your mastery over all the issues, and that’s the real point of the writing.

You will need to give yourself some creative licence to do this, but it’s a good way of showing just how much knowledge your organisation really holds.

When you’ve finished this not only will you have a valuable new business tool for future business, it will also serve to educate new people starting today the triumphs of the past.



Witness David Attenborough

By Communication theory, Communications craft, Story, Structure, Thought leadership, Uncategorized, What's out there now

In David Attenborough’s short trailer he demonstrates how to launch an argument and sell in documentary in just a few powerful seconds. If you’ve done the Copycourse you’ll recognise the structure he uses a mile off.

David Attenborough: I am David Attenborough and I am 93. I ‘ve had the most extraordinary life. It’s only now that I appreciate how extraordinary. The living world is a unique and spectacular Marvel. Yet the way we humans live on earth is sending it into a decline. Human beings have over run over the world. We are replacing the wild with the tame.

This film is my witness statement about my vision for the future. The story about how we came to make this, our greatest mistake. How if we act now we can yet to put it right. Our planet is heading for disaster. You need to learn how to work rather nature rather than against it. And I’m going to tell you how. In cinemas 2020.


Truncation is a funny business

By Communications craft, Funny, Thought leadership, Uncategorized, What's out there now

One of the problems mobiles responsive sizing gives us is that we’re never sure exactly what is going to appear as the final result. Pictures have to be created so that the subject of the picture is in the centre. That limits things considerably. And there’s even more trouble when you start putting type messages in respsonsive situations.

You want the message to appear as Acme is proud to sponsor World Aid . But what you actually see in certain screens is different.

Acme is proud to ponsor id. The truncation is worse than meaningless. It makes the brain work hard to guess something that probably wasn’t very interesting in the first place. The Two Ronnies nailed the experience with this classic sketch.

Until Linkedin produces responsive banners the advice has to be don’t put type in the banner head.