A few months ago, my mother sent me a link to a YouTube video and told me to look for her among members of the choir. I watched the video. In it, folk singer Tony Turner sings a protest song against the Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The song is called “Harperman.” It’s a sendup of the misadventures of Stephen Harper and most of the choir members are from a Unitarian Church.
The song is irreverent and silly. A sample of the lyrics:
Who controls our parliament?
Who squashes all dissent?
The Duffy handout incident,
No respect for the environment,
Harperman, it’s time for you to go!
I posted the video on my Facebook feed with a message to my friends to look for my mother in the background.
The view counter on the YouTube video was fairly modest, in the low hundreds.
The Canadian federal election is coming up in November of this year. The song was recorded in June. It seemed like a playful but small contribution to the conversation about the election.
Then in mid-August, Tony Turner, who, as well as being a folksinger, works for the federal government as a scientist in habitat planning, was suspended without pay from his job. Why? Because of the song.
An article in the National Post explained that “The suspension of Tony Turner … for writing and performing the song has opened a Pandora’s box of colliding views over public servants’ political rights, freedom of expression, government control, and the very tradition of a non-partisan public service.”
The same article claims calls Turner a folk hero. And suggest that public servants’ political rights could become an important election issue.
Suddenly, I was hearing the song on radio news programs. I tried to find my mother’s voice during the chorus. My father saw my mother’s face on the TV at the gym. The video was being played on the television news as well.
My Facebook feed was suddenly full of Harperman. “#Harperman” was trending on Twitter.
“Tony’s punishment tuned out to be a huge gift. … It is totally in keeping with the song and backfired by drawing massive attention to the song they didn’t want anyone to hear,” said Chris White, who collaborated on Harperman, told the National Post. “The core issue is all about freedom of expression and political control over someone working for the government and the extent of that control, and that is exactly what the song is about. That is the beauty of this situation.”
More than half a million people have watched the Harperman video on YouTube. And though that number might not seem very high, in a country with a population of about 30 million, reaching 500,000 voters is significant.
Comments on the Harperman.ca site as well as on the YouTube video suggest that Harperman is super catchy and a good song to sing in the shower.
It seems like the federal government may have made a public relations misstep in suspending Turner because it has brought so much attention to his message. And it might just be a little inspiring to see a silly political song become nationally relevant.
I haven’t asked my mother if she is going to Parliament Hill to sing the song again. I imagine that she’ll be there. With bells on.
Every now and then, a website update goes live, making competitors slap themselves on the forehead, saying, “Huh, I wish I’d done that!”
Many of these sites, such as Netflix and Amazon, are out of reach of the average person in that they grow so rapidly that lots of investment, contacts and substantial infrastructure quickly become essential. Other sites, however, are by smaller businesses—freelancers, even—which makes the competitive chatter even worse.
Earlier this year, one such site was launched by a copywriter in the UK.
Jon Ryder of Fullstopnewparagraph launched his new site one day in January. When he woke up the next morning, his site had been tweeted and retweeted hundreds of times, praised by copywriters and designers from all corners of the earth.
To see what it looks like, you can either watch the GIF below or click the link above to test it out for yourself. Make sure you’re on a desktop/laptop though, as it’ll do something different on mobile.
I recently asked Jon a few questions about the site in the hope of helping you to replicate, at least to some degree, his success the next time you plan a redesign or launch a website.
Q: What prompted you to diverge from the standard copywriters’ website? (i.e. image of a typewriter, messaging that says, “Lost for words? I’ll help you find them,” etc.)
A: As you say, those sites are standard, and that’d just make me look average. I wanted something shareable that works in seconds. I’m a writer, yet even I accept that few people read more than a couple of sentences these days.
Making it interactive hopefully reels people in, and they’ve got the message about what I do before they realise they’ve been reading anything at all. It was also important that it was almost all typographic. There are portfolio images in there, but I didn’t want those to distract from the writing.
Lesson #1: Being a writer, it makes perfect sense that Jon wanted to demonstrate his talent with words. However, many writers are justifiably concerned that a portfolio website containing block after block of text isn’t a great solution. By coming at things from a new angle, Jon was able to flip this problem on its head and demonstrate an understanding of what his target audience wants.
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Q: Your new site went viral on Twitter. Have you or the designer seen much in the way of work as a result of that? Obviously the writing is the focus of the site, but the technical/design aspect also plays a key part.
A: The reaction was incredible. I woke up and, while I’d been asleep, designers and writers in the US, Australia and all over the place had been talking about it.
The designers are She Was Only [some of their other work pictured below], and they’ve certainly had people contacting them off the back of it. As you say, the words are one element, but the developers and designers there were the ones that brought it to life.
They did an awesome job and made me realize just how much work goes into something like that. I’m clueless about coding, so Jonny at the studio created the homepage completely from scratch.
I don’t know how much traffic She Was Only got as a result, but in my first week I got over 70,000 visits compared with just a few each month before the relaunch.
Lesson #2: Never underestimate the impact of bringing someone with a different skill set into the mix. Jon’s willingness to work with designers and developers (not to mention the financial investment) to bring the site to life clearly paid off. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.
Q: How has the quality of leads to your site changed since the redesign? I imagine you’re now getting lots of copywriters looking at the site, which is nice for validation, but doesn’t help you get clients…or has your site never been your central source of lead generation?
A: The whole point of the site was to appeal to designers and creative agencies, because that’s ultimately who hires me. I wanted to show that I really care about design and visual ideas, and that I’m not just a writer filling boxes with copy at the end of the creative process.
I’ve had loads of agencies contacting me, and you’re right, plenty of copywriters too. Probably half and half. Some writers have sent death threats telling me to take it down as it’s ruining things for everyone else, but I presume they’re kidding. *looks over shoulder nervously*
The site’s not aimed at copywriters, but it’s still great to be complimented by your peers.
My old site never generated leads—it was just somewhere to send people to prove I was real—so I never got enquiries from it. The new one brings in potential clients almost every other day, which is an amazing improvement.
Lesson #3: A lot of copywriters, and businesses for that matter, focus too much on the number of visits they get to their website. Jon took a strategic approach to target the people who are actually his prospective customers and, once again, it’s paid off for him. When more leads means more admin and legwork, quality really does beat quantity.
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Q: Provided you monitored this on your previous site, how has the change impacted your SEO results for major keywords?
A: I wish I knew, but SEO isn’t my strong point. It still needs fine-tuning in that respect, but I’ve not got round to it yet.
Lesson #4: I suppose a takeaway here is that being number one on Google doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all of building a website. Of course, it has its place, but in Jon’s case, social sharing and word of mouth has been just as, if not more, powerful as building a search-engine-friendly site*.
*Still, with close to a thousand backlinks and almost a hundred referring domains pointing to Jon’s site, he stands to capitalize on this if he does decide to tool around with SEO on the site.
Q: I see you have a subscription form on the site, like most of us do. Any plans to use that list for something equally as divergent as the site? And has the big splash made by the site helped you gather a lot of signups from people looking to you for “the next big thing”?
I definitely want to do something with those mailing list sign-ups, along with the 500 or so Twitterers who favorited, followed or tweeted me about the site. This is actually the second time I tried to get the attention of the design world, after creating my own medication last year.
That got a bit of publicity on blogs and Twitter, and bagged me some new clients, so I’m a bit addicted to doing this kind of thing now. I have a few ideas for what’s next but have not decided for sure yet. If anyone’s got an idea for something that needs a writer, I’d love to hear from them!
Lesson #5: Really creative ideas get a lot of attention, especially in the world of advertising and marketing. Ifa creative idea you’re proud of fails to make a splash in the way you hoped it would, it’s easy to become discouraged. Don’t be afraid to come up with a new idea and try again if that happens.
Personally, I find Jon’s site impressive because it was put together so well. There’s a harmony between design and copywriting that you don’t see often, and that in itself must be a huge selling point for designers who are looking to work with a copywriter and find themselves on his site.
Too often, people building a website make it look the way they want it to look, rather than thinking about (or even asking about) the way their prospective clients want it to look and function. Do that well, and you’re in with a shot of enjoying some of the success Jon has after his site relaunch.
Come across any sites in your industry that have really wowed you? Let us know in the comments, along with what you think makes them so special.