Writing The Perfect Blurb

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

 

by Wesley K. Andrews, Creative Director at Studio Forte

Your customers want blurbs. Blurbs sell shows with concise, compelling, and practical writing. Master the blurb and you'll join the ranks of true marketing pros.

That was a blurb about blurbs.

What's In A Blurb?

Successful arts marketing blurbs contain three key elements: the standout, the meat, and the emotional payoff.

My blurb about blurbs had all three. Watch:

Your customers want blurbs. That's the standout. I gave you a reason why the topic of my blurb was different than any other topic you might read about. The purpose of the standout is to get your attention and compel you to read more.

The standout is often a “values statement”. In this example, I claimed that your customers want blurbs. Is that really true? Maybe, but maybe not, and so my next step is to substantiate my values statement.

Blurbs sell shows with concise, compelling, and practical writing. That's the meat. I simultaneously explained why blurbs are so important and gave you more information. Of course your readers want blurbs if they are concise and compelling – who wouldn't want to read something concise and compelling?

The meat leads you logically to the emotional payoff. In this example, I wrote: Master the blurb and you'll join the ranks of true marketing pros. The emotional payoff is what makes the blurb matter. It makes your reader care. Don't you want to join the ranks of true marketing pros? Of course you do!

The emotional payoff is the blurb element that I see most frequently left out. Read as many brochures as I do and you'll see plenty of who, what, when, and where, but, time and time again, you won't see the why. It's too bad. Because the emotional payoff is where you earn the sale.

My example blurb dedicated a full sentence to each of the three elements. It's 25 words long. What if you only have 20 words? You'll have to work even more concisely to combine the elements. Like this:

True arts marketing pros live for the blurb. Write concise and compelling blurbs and you WILL sell more shows.

Actually I think I like that one better.

Stay Active

Keep your verbs active. My 20-word blurb had three verbs: “live”, “write,” and “sell”. Active verbs keep the reader's eyes moving and maintain an energetic flow to your copy.

A good rule of thumb is to never use the words “are”, “be”, or “is”. Those are classic inactive verbs and they make for boring, plodding sales copy that uses extra words unnecessarily. Watch:

True arts marketing pros are living for the blurb. A blurb is concise and compelling and helps your brochure be the best it can be.

See how much worse that is? Did you even read the whole thing? I barely finished writing it.

Be Evocative and Avoid Cliche

Sara Billmann, Director of Marketing and Communications at the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan (UMS), likes to read the blurbs at wine tastings. She “loves the way they can speak to an individual” by using specific and evocative language. As a fan of sauvignon blancs, Billmann is looking for words like grapefruit, grassy, or tangy that go to the heart of what she loves in a wine. Good writing helps her imagine a product that she already knows she wants.

Describing an artist (or a wine) as “great”, “excellent”, or “world-class” gives you no reason to buy. Avoid cliches at all costs! I asked Billmann which words she would ban from the arts marketing field and she offered “transformative”, “once-in-a-lifetime”, and the phrase “blazing new trails”. Can't argue with those choices!

Know Your Audience

Who's reading this blurb? How old are they? Where do they live? What television shows do they like? What kind of job do they have?

Demographics, which describe your readers in terms of ethnicity, gender, age and other census-type descriptors, and psychographics, which can describe your readers in terms of their entertainment and consumer habits, should play an equal role in guiding your understanding of your audience. You can purchase market research to answer these questions empirically; if you can't afford that, answer them anecdotally from your personal experience.

I am writing this article for WAA's membership. You are an agent, manager, talent buyer or executive director. You are 40 – 65 years old, college educated, and I have pretty good guesses at your family size, television habits, and income, too.

What does that mean? It means you know the difference between Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel and I can write to that. Because I know a little bit about what you know, here's how I would sell you Paul Simon's upcoming tour with Sting:

Paul Simon rides again alongside musical brother-in-arms Sting. Revel in Graceland-era hits alongside new music and inspiring collaborations.

The underlying message of that blurb is clear: this concert will not feature “Bridge Over Troubled Water”!

Now, if I didn't know the first thing about you, I might write this:

Paul Simon has been topping the charts since the 1960s with his internationally-influenced folk rock. See his tour with Sting, former frontman for The Police, and enjoy their inspiring collaborations.

See the difference? I spent time explaining things that didn't need explaining. Identifying Paul Simon's genre (and reminding you who Sting is) comes across as an insult to your intelligence. Additionally, the second example leaves you wondering whether the concert will feature Garfunkel-era hits.

Knowing your audience also means understanding what is motivating the purchasing decision. WAA's members are writing blurbs for two distinct audiences: patrons and talent buyers. If you are an Executive Director, Marketing Director, or other venue stakeholder, you'll be writing for patrons and you'll want to follow this article's advice closely. If you are an agent or manager you'll be writing for talent buyers.

Writing for Talent Buyers

Why do talent buyers buy this artist instead of that artist?

Sara Billmann loves artists who “can really have that rapport” with her patrons. As a frequent presenter of classical music, UMS has its pick of the world's finest instrumentalists year after year, and so needs to read between the lines of promotional copy to find performers who connect with the crowd.

So let's say that you work for ABC Artists, representing the famous violist Joe Shmoe, winner of contests and wow-er of aficionados. Here's a blurb that Billmann wouldn't like:

Joe Shmoe is recognized world-wide as the violin's premier practitioner. Winner of the 2013 Global Strings Consortium and the 2012 Violin Free-for-All, Shmoe's upcoming US tour is your opportunity to showcase truly elite talent.

This blurb is too award-heavy (has too many standouts) and doesn't recognize the emotional payoff that UMS seeks. UMS is looking for an authentic artist-to-audience connection. Something like this:

Joe Shmoe captivates audiences worldwide with his incredible skill and warm audience rapport. ABC proudly offers his upcoming US tour, featuring a program ranging from Mozart to Philip Glass, as your opportunity to showcase a truly uncommon virtuoso.

This blurb still incorporates Shmoe's technical abilities with words like “skill” and “virtuoso” but its primary focus is captivation and uniqueness. It's too bad I made him up; I might have just booked him a gig in Michigan!

Conclusion

Every blurb needs a standout, meat, and an emotional payoff. Every blurb writer needs to know their audience and what the reader is looking to buy. Every blurb should be active, evocative, and avoid cliché.

True arts marketing pros live for the blurb. Read this article closely, follow its advice, and watch your career reap the rewards.

That was a blurb about this article about blurbs. Stop me before I blurb again!

About the Author

Wesley K. Andrews writes for Studio Forte, a boutique creative firm specializing in arts marketing. Learn more at www.studiofortedesign.com. Contact Wes at wes@studiofortedesign.com.