I was fascinated to see the stationery shop, Officeworks, launch a marketing campaign called Time to Write. As a content marketing campaign, which combines the benefits of information for consumers and sales opportunities for Officeworks, it’s pretty good – but not faultless. I thought I would unpack it for my Sticky community as an example of what you might do, and not do, in your own blogging campaigns.
Let’s be clear: I don’t spend my time and money blogging just because I love you (even though I do). I blog because in order to build a community of interest (that’s you) in my ideas and approach, to build my reputation as an author’s mentor, to establish my credibility and authority, and to find clients.
So I am not going to chuck rocks at Officeworks for a campaign designed to sell notebooks, pencils and pens. Their commercial focus is not a problem in my view. Setting that aside then, let’s unpack the campaign.
THE GOOD STUFF
The Campaign Claim
Time to Write’s claim is that 15-20 minutes of handwriting a day can relieve stress and anxiety, according to Australian research, which I will explore in a moment.
‘It was extremely clear from the 2000 Australians who participated in the survey that there are positive benefits associated with handwriting, with those who handwrite notes, thoughts, ideas, feelings or memories being 2.5 times more likely to experience relief from anxiety, fear and worry,’ Officeworks claimed in its (hard-to-find) press release on the study.
This claim has appeal. Creating time to write encourages quiet reflection, hand-eye coordination, setting aside some time for self, and subtly reinforces a widespread bias that time spent ‘online’ is not so good for us.
We want to believe in this campaign. I believe in creating time to write, too, and run free weekly Writing Hackathons for my clients who want to prioritise writing. But they are not confined to handwriting. It’s BYO writing project: a keynote, a blog, a book chapter. I’m writing this blog during my Writing Hackathon.
Freebees: Not everything in this campaign is for sale
Officeworks offers free workshops, or at least I think they are free. Dr Suzy Green, positive psychologist and founder of the Positivity Institute is the trainer in these workshops. They require no signup and are for September only at this stage.
If you can’t make a workshop, you can download a simple one-page guide to get you started writing letters, keeping a gratitude journal and so on. Again, these are provided without any signup. Officeworks is not trying to build an email list with this campaign (a valid goal), it is trying to get you to come into its stores – also a valid campaign goal.
Officeworks quotes Australian research to back up its claims, but it doesn’t source this research at its time-to-write page. The source is not mentioned, nor a link provided to it. A simple search provides a link to the Officeworks press release. The press release is dated last year, so not all that recent. Not new.
What is the role of Deakin Univerity?
The press release also names Deakin University, the home of a long-standing professional writing course, as a partner in the research. However, a thorough search of Deakin Uni’s website, as well as other more general searches about Deakin Uni’s involvement shows nothing. The press release quotes Helen Skouteris, professor in Developmental Psychology and head researcher at Deakin University, a specialist in obesity prevention, but the research is not included in her publications list.
Where is the link to the original research document?
There is no link to the full research document, just the press release for those keen enough to search for it. If I was still paid to be a journalist, I’d make a phone call to find out why Deakin and Professor Skouteris, are not proclaiming their involvement in the study. Since I am not going to do so, I won’t speculate. It is just a missing piece in the research’s credibility.
Controls and comparisons
The other missing piece is a comparative or controlled study into the benefits of writing whether or not it is handwriting. Is it handwriting, or simply writing, that helps us? The press release does not tell us.
How were participants recruited?
Were participants self-selected, called on the phone at random, only Officeworks customers? Who knows. The way that participants are recruited can influence the results of any study. In this study, we do not know who recruited the 2000 participants and how they found them, nor their demographics.
Lessons from the missing pieces
Who really cares if Officeworks’ research stands up to scrutiny? I hope that you do. We are all publishers in this wonderfully connected world and with that opportunity comes responsibility.
Officeworks’ campaign is a generous one, with free resources and workshops, and a transparent commercial focus. The problem is that their transparency fails when it comes to their research. Why quote it – and presumably pay Deakin University to conduct it – without providing access to it?
The lessons are simple then.
If you conduct research to substantiate a claim, provide full access to it for those who care. Tell us how you conducted it. Emailing people on your contact list with an invitation to complete a survey is perfectly legitimate, but we need to know your methods to judge your results.
If there are limitations, be up front
This story is limited by my decision not to ring Officeworks or Deakin Uni to ask them for answers to the questions that arose in my mind. We need to know that.
If you use others research to substantiate a claim, provide enough information about your sources so that we can track it down for ourselves if we are that way inclined.
Let’s make time to write to the highest standards of respect for our readers and quality in our content.
P.S. Want More? You might like: http://kathwalters.com.au/apps-help-writing-avoid/