Sara Rosinsky is an independent copywriter and author who has a passion for the written word. She has over 30 years of experience in the advertising industry and has a deep understanding of copywriting. She has written a book called “Unflubify Your Writing” to guide readers in improving their spelling, punctuation, and overall writing skills and continue educating them on copy.
How I Work, Episode 42 with Sara Rosinsky
Copywriting is the backbone of effective marketing, and this interview is a goldmine for anyone looking to dive into the world of copywriting or refine their existing skills. Sara aims to help us understand copywriting and clarify the purpose and impact of persuasive writing. Plus, she discusses which jobs she feels are in danger as AI creeps into the content world and shares her ten tips for writing human-centric content.
Top 10 copywriting tips for effective content writing:
- Begin with clarity – know exactly what you’re trying to say
- Keep your writing reader focused – it’s not all about you and your company
- Ensure your writing is active – avoid the passive voice
- Honesty is key – own your authenticity
- Make your writing musical – pay attention to the sound of words
- Efficiency – utilize your headlines, subheads, and bullet points
- Fat-free writing – remove every single word that is not necessary
- Make it easy – dump the jargon
- Check the spinach between your teeth – proofread, proofread, and proofread again
- Write with confidence and never stop learning
Learn more about Sara Rosinsky and Shiny Red Copy: https://www.linkedin.com/company/shinyredcopy/
Transcription: How I Work, Episode 42 (Sara Rosinsky, Shiny Red Copy)
Josh Becerra: Hi everybody, this is Josh Becerra from Augurian. Welcome to our next episode of How I Work. I am delighted to be joined by Sarah Rosinsky, who is an independent copywriter who works under the banner of Shiny Red Copy. She likes to describe herself as a logophile. Hope I said that right, which is a fun way to say she’s a word lover. Sarah’s written a book called Unflubify Your Writing, Bite Size Lessons to Improve Your Spelling, Punctuation, an entertaining way to learn to navigate the trickiest parts of our language. Sarah’s goal is to help people become more confident with writing so they can enjoy it the way she does. Thanks for being here, Sarah.
Sara Rosinsky: Thank you so much for having me. Thank you.
Josh Becerra: Yeah, it’s so awesome. I’m someone who will be the first to say my spelling, grammar, and punctuation probably isn’t great. And my mom was a editor at a newspaper, so she always cringes when she sees my first drafts. So anyway, I’m super excited to talk with you today.
Content, writing, copywriting has kind of been around and in the news a little bit. So we’ll get into that. You know, I’m alluding to ChatGPT, but before we kind of move into topics of the day, why don’t you start by having, why don’t I have you tell us a little bit about your background, the passion for the written word, and how you got where you are today.
Sara Rosinsky: All right, well, I got my first job in the advertising business more than 30 years ago. And beautifully, the way I got my job was by advertising.
Josh Becerra: There you go.
Sara Rosinsky: I had graduated from college during a recession and I created a poster that basically said, I was available to do whatever kind of work people needed. all over Boston’s back bay, had the little tear-off phone numbers to my landline, whatever.
Anyway, one thing led to another. I ended up getting a job in an advertising agency, and I just loved it. And because it was a small advertising agency, I got to see how the entire business works, to graphic design, pitching work, account management, and of course, copywriting. And my boss was kind enough to really take me under his wing and taught me the trade. So I’ve worked in that ad agency. I worked in-house at Publix Supermarkets, which is headquartered in Florida. And then I’ve become an independent copywriter. author. I wrote a book.
Josh Becerra: What is it about the written word that inspires you?
Sara Rosinsky: Well, first of all, every single word you and I use has a history. And I find that infinitely fascinating. It’s sort of like a museum that travels around with you. I’m not even exaggerating. Every single word had a beginning. It was probably changed by use in the same way that you would see floorboards in an old house get a divot in them. See how human use has changed our language and it’s just so interesting and I highly recommend people check out the website etymonline.com that’s E-T-Y-M as in etymology, just it’s so interesting.
Josh Becerra: I think it’s really cool that we continue to evolve our language, right? It’s not something that’s at all static.
Sara Rosinsky: Never.
Josh Becerra: And as our kind of understanding of things evolves, we have to give it names and develop language around it. So anyway, I think words are very cool. And they were driven into my head by my mom, the editor, for a long, long time. with that, although my spelling is pretty cringe-worthy.
Sara Rosinsky: Well, you have lots of tools to use these days, right? It’s never been easier to look things up or to have them corrected on the fly.
Josh Becerra: Yeah, no, it is. It’s definitely useful to use all of those tools. So you’ve done a lot of speaking on the topic of copywriting. As part of that, you share best practices, advice on how to be a copywriter. I know you have your top 10 kind of things on how to be a copywriter. So why don’t you share some of those things with the audience as well.
Sara Rosinsky: All right, I had to make a list of these so I would remember all 10 of them.
Typically, yeah, typically I’d have an hour to elaborate on all of these, but I will try to share these efficiently. The first thing I tell everyone is to begin with clarity. You need to know exactly what you’re trying to say. That sounds fundamental, but particularly if you’re a small business owner and you don’t know where to start, the one thing you want to get across. And that’s easier said than done, frankly. Once that’s done, I recommend that people keep their writing reader focused.
A lot of businesses make the mistake of talking about our facility and our kajillion years of experience and our whatever. Your reader biologically cares about your reader, That’s not a deficit. They’re not selfish. It’s just the way people are and so you need to really think about and really use the word you Frankly really look at a balance between how many times you say you and how many times you say us or me or I? That’s really important and I substantiate this when I speak but we’re flying along the third thing
Josh Becerra: I know, but I do love it. I think you’re so right. So let’s go with the third thing.
Sara Rosinsky: Okay, the third thing is make your writing active, which I begin by explaining what the passive voice is and that’s best explained by saying, why was the road crossed by the chicken?
So it’s almost always it’s almost always it’s a shortcoming if you’re doing that, but not always. And I do want to clarify that there is a time to use the passive voice. time try to be active try to choose verbs that are interesting maybe unusual and just active you know pack a punch.
Number four this may seem counterintuitive in the world of advertising but I say make your writing honest and that is such a good piece of advice I’m just telling you you will you know, back in the 60s, I guess it was, who said, we’re not number one, we’re the second most popular car rental company, but they owned it. And they said, because of that, we’re always gonna try harder. And so just be as honest as possible, and then you can lean into it, you can own it, and you don’t have to turn yourself into, tie yourself into a knot to lie, which is, you know, morally not a good idea, but also for efficacy.
Josh Becerra: Well, I think authenticity is something that, yeah, people can perceive, right? We just understand that.
Sara Rosinsky: Absolutely. I don’t want to talk about a blue streak here. So number five, I have Make Your Writing Musical. And there I talk about how much I pay attention to the sounds of words. There are things you can do like alliteration, where the beginnings of your words are another. And rhythm, which all of these can really contribute to a level of musicality, gets your writing noticed and remembered. I pay a lot of attention to that, so I recommend people do too.
Josh Becerra: I love that.
Sara Rosinsky: Yeah. And when in doubt, make your sentences shorter rather than longer. In terms of rhythm, you’re just much better off going da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, than you are having a three-line
Then I say, number six, make your writing efficient. And that is the use of headlines and subheads and bullet points. Frankly, your reader is a busy person and the chances that that person is going to sit, begin with the first word and carry all the way through to the last word, are, they are close to nil. Your reader is gonna wanna scan to get the gist to go back to revisit parts that are most important. So I highly recommend thinking about that.
Josh Becerra: I mean, that is such great advice because I firmly believe people don’t read the way they used to, right? It is way more of a scan and then find where I want to actually read. So we spend a lot of time in our world when we’re looking at content and websites. It’s like, what’s the H1? Where are we chopping up? Where are we putting in jump links, lists, bullet points, and then find the one that they’re really most interested in, click on that, and jump to that piece of the document. So yeah, that’s great advice.
Sara Rosinsky: Right, it also ties in with what I said earlier about focusing on your reader. Just always put yourself in that person’s shoes. And again, they’re not bad or selfish or a self-centered person. They just, they’re busy and do them favors at every opportunity and they will thank you for it.
Number seven, I have – make your writing fat free. really this should be my number one. It defines me. Remove every single word that is not necessary. You can’t believe how much we tend to insert redundancies in our writing. It’s kind of human nature to repeat ourselves a little bit to make sure everyone got the point. Ain’t nobody got time for my elimination of fluff and fat. And I highly recommend it, and there are a million anecdotes about this.
Josh Becerra: Oh, yeah.
Sara Rosinsky: We don’t have the time. We don’t even have the time. I’m just telling you.
Josh Becerra: I think about how I write myself. And yeah, a lot of times I’m just running on just because I think I need to do that to sound more professional or something. And cut it short. Sweet.
Sara Rosinsky: Yep, do that reader a favor. And I also, as I read, it’s really like, it’s almost like you’re looking at yourself in the mirror and trying on an outfit and you go, is it better with the earrings or without? Or you know what I mean? Like you have to try it both ways. And if it’s better without, get rid of it. Be brutal. I will quote myself by saying, I always say, help, it hurts. So anything in your writing that’s not contributing to getting your message across better, get rid of it. You’ll be better off. So then I say make your writing easy, and this is very related to that, but you mentioned just a second ago there’s a propensity to get a little in jargon sometimes or, you know, establish that we know what we’re talking about.
And I would dissuade everyone from doing that. If you’ve your credentials, your knowledge will speak for itself without trying to sound fancy. It’s never helpful. And I have a lot of imperfections, you know. Here I am using redundancies, but I’m trying to establish, especially on LinkedIn, sometimes you’ll look at a resume and go, what are you saying? You’re saying you took out the trash, but it’s taking you four sentences.
Anyway, then we’re up to number nine, check the spinach between your teeth. By which I mean, if you do not proofread carefully or have a colleague proofread your work, the best laid plans can go right down the chute. You and I share a number of really embarrassing errors that believe me I’ve made too. I’m not better than anyone else. The human where it sees what we meant to write and not what’s really there. It’s just extremely easy to make errors. I will point out that the word public without an L is still a word. But if you’re writing about public accountants or whatever the case may be, you don’t want that other word and it’s awfully easy.
Josh Becerra: No.
Sara Rosinsky: If you are writing about the word public a lot, I recommend doing a search for the other one, sure. Anyhow that’s the spinach –
Josh Becerra: Use your tools.
Sara Rosinsky: Use those tools.
Josh Becerra: I will say, so my daughter participated in her high school play this year and it was called the spelling bee. But anyway they brought some parents up on stage to participate and one of them was really kicking butt and they needed the parent to get off the stage. So they asked them to spell their spell there and they were like. T-H-E-I-R. And they’re like, nope, it’s T-H-E-R-E. So they were able to get them off the stage. But the English language provides us with these opportunities where they are there and there. So anyway,
Sara Rosinsky: oh boy yes those are deadly. And then the last number 10 is to make your writing confident and that of course the point there is the more you know the more confident you can be in your writing. It’s pretty simple right. I just would encourage you to intimidate you or confuse you, just take a minute to get a handle on it, and then you won’t have that fear-producing anxiety about messing up. I think we all are insecure because there’s so many opportunities to goof in our language, like you just said.
Just keep learning. I certainly do. I look things up every day.
Josh Becerra: Well, I’ll say every single one of those 10, I was thinking to myself like, oh, I totally do this. Oh, I need to stop doing that.
Sara Rosinsky: Hahaha
Josh Becerra: Or, oh, I need to start paying more attention to those things. So those are great tips and best practices for sure. I want to shift gears a little bit into this kind of marketing. A lot of the audience of this podcast are marketers. So we talk about brand standards and guides and things like that a lot. palette, response, design standards, but you also get kind of the voice of the brand or like what the brand voice is. So can you talk a little bit about your ideas about the importance of brand voice, how you make sure you don’t stray from it, and maybe if you have an example of a company that always gets their brand voice right, like you see it every single time.
Sara Rosinsky: Sure. Well, as your marketing audience knows, branding is all about consistency, really, right? It’s, you know it when you see it because it’s always the same.
And also, we know about voice because these days, if a bot, for example, slides itself into your DMs you can tell, oh, this isn’t a person. There’s something off about these words. I can tell there’s something disingenuous or wrong, or this isn’t really my Aunt Sally who’s reaching out to me. I can tell. So that’s just evidence of our sense of voice and how much it really matters. In terms of what brands do a good job distinctive or consistent voice. You know, most of them are pretty similar, I would say. They’re… Pepsi and Coke aren’t going to sound a whole lot different. They’re going to sound confident and cool and, you know, like your best friend and all of that stuff. Distinctive ones, distinctive voices are unusual enough that they get your attention.
I’ve been pretty tickled with the brand Oatly, the oat milk.
Josh Becerra: Okay.
Sara Rosinsky: Yeah, they, how would I describe it? Confidently self, not deprecating, self-amused. I don’t know, they’re just, they’re okay with, I remember a campaign they did about their newsletter, and they kind of, untraditionally, they had what do you call it, out of home boards, encouraging people to sign up for an oat milk newsletter, which is preposterous, right? Newsletters are things we do because we’re not thinking straight. They went the other direction. They acknowledged how annoying newsletters are, and they just leaned into it, to my point earlier about honesty. They put out billboards. It was just nuts.
Josh Becerra: Yeah.
Sara Rosinsky: So anyway, which graphically is always consistent. I know it’s going to be from them. I’m sort of giddy. What are they going to say? You know, what is… and they always get me. So that’s just one.
Josh Becerra: I was listening to a video the other day, and this may be more just about the brand in general, but I thought it was pretty clever. And the person was saying, if you think about Nike, and I think it was like courtyard hotels or something like that, right? It was like, you think about Nike, and you say, what would a hotel that Nike would kind of look and feel like and sound like and like we can kind of all imagine what that would probably look and feel the color scheme and how people would be dressed and like what and then on the flip side it was and if could you imagine what like a courtyard in and sweets tennis shoe would look like no you can’t imagine right because they just they don’t like have that full kind of, So anyway, I thought that was pretty clever to just
think about it in that way. I know it’s, it’s probably a little bit beyond just brand voice but um I thought that was kind of a clever thing that came out of a video I was watching. Yeah.
So another kind of marketing thing, a topic that you and I discussed while prepping uh for this was around testing um to you know like we think about, hey, let’s test click through rates or engagement. What is your opinion on testing, messaging and copy?
Sara Rosinsky: Certainly something like an email subject line is a very quick way to learn what’s getting more opens. But I have a warning about that. Just opening an email is not necessarily the goal. Many years ago, the company I was working for thought they would give a solution, you know, an AI subject line generator. So, you know, they thought we’ll give it a test and we’ll try this thing out. I of course lost my mind. I was as you know, as a staff copywriter I was like, you’re, you’re doing what. But I’ll tell you what.
I was really not a happy camper. But here’s the thing. subject lines that would test and get more opens. But when I, as a human being with a brain and a heart, read those subject lines, like we were just saying, I could clearly tell it was not created by this company’s brand. It felt salesy, it felt sensationalist, and this brand is a family, it’s a lifestyle, it’s an empathetic brand, just all of these things, and I hated what tested better. So the testing is something to pay attention to, but you gotta keep your discernment also.
Josh Becerra: Yeah, I think that’s right. I do think that there’s that like our filters as humans are so well-tuned to like understand what is like real and authentic and what is just kind of like, yeah, salesy, those other things that you’re saying. So I agree. We’ve seen a lot of success with like this types of the types of testing. But I do think that the successes kind of yeah human heart foundation so that’s a really that’s a really good call-out. So you mentioned AI and this is kind of our last question of the day and I can’t like let you off the hook without asking you about chat GPT and all the hype
because you know everybody’s saying oh copywriters and content creators are gonna be out of work you know in no time. What are your thoughts on the new content in the future?
Sara Rosinsky: Almost anything I say will be parroting the things I’ve heard that seem most likely. No one has a crystal ball. No one under, a lot of people are positioning themselves as authorities right now.
Josh Becerra: Yeah.
Sara Rosinsky: This is new, right? So I’m not gonna use the word never, and I’m not gonna say anything at this point in our lives. I believe that the drudge type of writing, by which I mean blogs that are being written just to incorporate keywords, can be found by machines, right?
If you’re spending your days doing that kind of writing, I would look for other work. I mean, or prepare to get paid less because it’s automated, you know.
Josh Becerra: Or figure out how to be more, you’ll just have to start using those tools to be ultra efficient.
Sara Rosinsky: That’s my point. Right, right, right. But I think as more and more people do that, there will be a bit of a race to the bottom, you know, to folks who can whip that out more quickly, that check all the boxes. I’ve got your, I’ve got your keywords right here. Hey, if you like doing that kind of work, I don’t know, that’s not what I do. You know, I’m… That’s not my idea of a good time is writing a composition for a robot that I don’t know.
Josh Becerra: Which means there’s gotta be room then for like the very creative kind of human side of writing and that’s never really gonna go away. That’s what I’m interpreting.
Sara Rosinsky: I think so, you know, this is such science fiction territory, because I’ll speak about AI as a singular beast, whereas it’s actually a number of different ones, but let’s just call it the beast.
It’s learning all the time. And so if it can hoover up every word I’ve ever written, perhaps it can become me.
Josh Becerra: I love how you coined it as science fiction,
Sara Rosinsky: It is.
Josh Becerra: It’s literally coming to life right now. And yeah. And I think there’s people who don’t know what level of control we’re even gonna have as it moves forward.
Sara Rosinsky: I’ll tell you this much. I’m never going to fall in love with a robot, and I’m never going to make a robot my best friend. I think there are things that human beings are always going to offer one another. I don’t think we can be completely replaced, so it’ll be interesting to see what we begin to seek out and lift up. I don’t know.
Josh Becerra: I love all that. That’s like a very kind of hopeful and inspirational message on which I think we could end. Which I just threw together some really long crazy words on which I think we could end. So I just broke rule number eight but hey so I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Sarah thank you so much for being my guest and we’ll just say goodbye for this episode of How I Work. Thanks.
Sara Rosinsky: Thank you. Thank you.