What is the single most important thing you can do when preparing an advertising campaign?

I have been considering for some time if there is one factor above all others that one should particularly focus on when creating a new advert – or indeed a new series of adverts.

And after due consideration, and a fairly large number of false starts, I have what seems to me to be the right answer:

Challenge all assumptions.

We all of us make assumptions.  We might assume that (for example) postal campaigns are too expensive, that no one reads blogs, the emails don’t work, that writing an advert is just about telling the reader what one has for sale…

And all of them have a certain validity.  They can indeed all be true on occasion.  But none of these points, rather like most other assumptions, are universally true.

Postal mailing campaigns can work – and they come with the great advantage that usually it is possible to test them out with a mailshot to around 300 randomly selected addresses.  From this you can see if you are getting the percentage response rate you need to make money.

Some people do read blogs – not everyone, but some people.   A blog I write with a group of friends gets six million pageviews a year.  Another on a thoroughly obscure subject gets a third of a million.   It is possible if you get the blog right.  I’ll be happy to tell you how I have done it.

The same is true with emails.  People do read – it all depends on the layout, design, the headline, and how you pitch your offer.

Of course, it would be nice if we could live in a world of absolute certainties – but when it comes to advertising, this is often not the case.

If you would like to explore any areas of direct advertising in the fields of emails, letters, or blogs, please do drop me a line, or give me a call.  Alternatively, please do take a flip take through the articles on this site.  They cover, from various viewpoints, the areas where challenging assumptions can be a huge benefit in direct marketing.

Tony Attwood

01536 399 000


Is it really possible to take a website up the Google rankings via a bit of clever IT manipulation?

My answer to that question above is, “it might be, but I haven’t seen it happen.”  But I also want to say “there is another way”.

So what is my evidence?

First I have talked to a few people who have tried using an outside consultant to get such a rise in the rankings to occur, but none have reported great success to me.  Of course, that is only a few such people, so maybe I asked the wrong ones, but it is an interesting start.

Second, I get a large number of emails regularly from people suggesting that they can do the magical business for me.  I notice that quite a few of these come from gmail addresses, and I must say I wonder why they don’t have their own company accounts.

I do indeed have a gmail address, but if writing to a client or potential client I tend to use Tony@hamilton-house.com – so this does make me wonder – although of course just a few rotten apples in a business sector does not mean the whole idea is faulty.

Third, a lot of the advertisements I see are very similar, saying that they have been on my website and noticed a range of problems.  That, of course, can be most worrying, especially if we are not quite sure what some of these problems are all about or how to rectify them.

But there are two things that concern me – one is that these emails often don’t cite the name of the website the people have been looking at, and the other is that the list of supposed errors is often the same.

Now as it happens, my company owns and runs around 100 websites, ranging from very small specialist affairs that are designed to have a small number of readers to sites we have developed, which have audiences ranging from 250,000 page views a year up to 6 million page views a year.

Of course it is possible that we have problems of the type they outline, and a few times I have written back asking which site they are looking at and to give me the details of one or two problems.  I have never had a reply.

So I’m dubious – but also I am speaking from a certain level of knowledge, given that we have built these sites that have picked up very large audiences – and which have covered various different areas of interest.

Of course, much does depend on the topic being considered – a regular discussion of the class system in the Roman Republic is likely to get a somewhat smaller audience than a website that discusses the ups and downs of a football club.

But on the other hand, starting a website about a football club has its own problems – not least of which is the fact that there will already be thousands of other sites out there already covering the same club.

Now this in turn has been interesting.  How can we create a site which is a latecomer in the field and turn it into the most used site of its type?  It is a question we have faced many times – and with some success.

Setting up and running a high profile website is possible, and not necessarily expensive – it all depends on exactly what you want to do, and how.

I am always happy to share my experiences and link them to whatever theme you wish to develop if you would like to email me or phone me.  The details are below.

Tony Attwood


Phone 01536 399 000.

Recent articles from the Schools’ Marketing Site



There are a number of factors that can cause an advert to underachieve. But how can you find out which one it is?

In the comments I have made on this website over the years I have touched on most of the things that can cause an advert to gain a lower number of sales than expected.

For example, the style of the email or sales letter might not be right.   It might look right to you, and might be similar to the style that many other people write, but it just doesn’t work.

The problem here is that most of the emails that you will see in your inbox each day don’t work – but it is always tempting to believe that they do, simply because so many people use the standard approaches.

But it might also be the case that you are sending the reader onto a landing page on your website that simply doesn’t work as a way of converting new enquirers into people who buy.  The website might work brilliantly for people who have already decided they have a strong interest in your subject, but for people who have just read an advert, it might be quite wrong.

It also might be that you have a competitor who is beating you on price or is offering a more interesting approach to the subject.  This doesn’t mean you should immediately cut the price, but it does mean you should be aware of what the opposition is up to.

Yet another issue is that your approach might not be in line with the current thinking of your prospective customers.  They might want your product, they might like your adverts, but you have to be aware of just how they think in order to capture the final sale.

Put all this together and you can have difficulties.  Which is why we invented Velocity as a way of rapidly reviewing all these issues and then testing out alternative forms of advertising based on our findings.

There are details of Velocity on our website or if you would like to talk through how it might relate to you, please do call 01536 399 000.  We’ll be happy to talk.

Tony Attwood


The four most common reasons why online advertising campaigns might fail to bring in sales

It is an unfortunate fact of life that many of the customers we undertake work for as a mailing house and email company come to us after they have sent out an advert that simply doesn’t work.

When this happens these companies naturally want two things: to know why it didn’t work, and to know what to do to make it work.

There can, of course, be many reasons why an advertising campaign doesn’t work, so this list is by no means complete.  But it is a list of the most common reasons as to why campaigns do sometimes fail to live up to expectations.

1: The email or letter doesn’t grab attention

If your readers look at your email or letter for a second and hit delete, you’ve lost everything. They never get to see your offer, so they never buy.

This is why we spend so long thinking about subject lines and why we also always add a headline to our advertisements.  They are both there to encourage the reader to read.

But it is not just a case of having a headline – it is a case of having the right headline. Headline writing doesn’t mean shouting something out at your audience, nor that you have to boast that you can cater for all their needs in your area of activity.  What it means is that you must say something that is different and attractive to the individual to whom you are writing.

That individual will have seen “50% discount” a thousand times. They will have been told that this is a “family business” which is famed for its “friendly approach” to business a million times.

Grabbing attention means being genuinely interesting, and different from what others are saying.

2: The website doesn’t follow on from the email

Most email adverts end with a link to a web page, and time and again we find that the email is indeed sending a lot of people to the web page, but then nothing is happening.

This is usually because the web page is just the website of the company rather than a page specifically written to follow on from this specific advert.  Of course going to the general page can work sometimes – but often it simply does not.

If your statistics show that a lot of people are going to the website but you are getting no sales then you need to ensure that you study the page you are sending people to.  (If you do come across this problem, by all means email me and I’ll take a look and give you my thoughts – no charge, no obligation.)

3: The writing style throughout is dull, there’s no sense of excitement

OK there are some things that you can’t make exciting, but solving a problem (which is what most adverts try to offer) ought to be made the core of the advert and web page.

The notion, “you have a problem, and this could be the solution” should be exciting and invigorating – all one has to do is find the reasons and set them out in a believable way.

4:  Trying to sell lots rather than one

There is always a feeling that one should advertise everything in an advert.  After all the customer might want x but you are advertising y, and so nothing will happen.

But contrary to common sense, advertising a lot of products in one go actually reduces response rates, unless you are in a business in which people know who you are and what you do, and expect you to have a catalogue of products.

However, even here the best way forward is to highlight a product that is new, upgraded, discounted, or changed in some way, and then add the fact that you sell everything in this field.

The above four points are, of course, just the four that we notice the most.  However there are many other things to consider, and in relation to this we’ve produced a new short document, “How to create a web page that sells (and get the email addresses of the visitors who don’t buy)”.

If you would like a copy please just drop an email to Chris@hamilton-house.com with the phrase “A web page that sells” in the subject line, and we’ll email it straight back to you.

Or if you would prefer to talk, give me a call on 01536 399 000.

Tony Attwood



There is one question so amazingly simple that you’d imagine that everyone answers it when writing an advert.

But they don’t.

That question is, “What am I trying to achieve?”

Now that question might seem so simple that you would expect that everyone knows the answer before they start creating the new advert.  You could argue that they don’t have to answer that question, because the answer is so obvious and clear.

And yet it is remarkably common to find that this isn’t the case.

For quite often when I have spoken to companies that are contemplating using Hamilton House’s marketing services I have asked, “what do you want to get out of this promotion?” and the answer has been… uncertain.

Possible answers include:

  • A sale
  • The customer to visit our website
  • The customer to call to make an appointment
  • For the customer to retain the knowledge of what we do, for whenever they want to buy
  • For the recipient to have a feeling of good will towards us
  • To show the customer that we have many more products than the one he/she bought last time.

If you are creating your own adverts and you have not decided which of these is the outcome you are aiming for, then, if I may be so bold as to suggest it, you have a problem.

For what you are doing is using a scattergun approach.

Now many people argue that this sort of approach is all that they can do, because they sell lots of things and don’t know what the potential customer has in mind.

That might be true, but the reality is that the most successful advertisements are those that focus on one product and one particular customer issue.

So my advice is always simple: decide what you want to get out of this advertisement, and focus on that, without letting anything extraneous get in the way.

Of course there is more to advertising than this, and if it so happens that you sell to teachers and managers in schools, I have available a report which may help you if you are already way behind this simple point.

The report has the snappy title, “The ten key issues that you must get right when advertising to schools in 2016/17.”

If you would like to read a copy (and we’ve kept the size right down to make it manageable) all you have to do is to drop an email to Chris@hamilton-house.com and write in the subject line “The 10 key issues” and we will send it to you.

If I can help on any other topic, please do give me a call.  Or email me.

Tony Attwood

Phone 01536 399 000.


Free report: How to create a web page that sells, and get the email addresses of those who don’t buy.

If you create a web page then once you have finished you will look at it carefully, taking it all in and admiring your handiwork.  What’s more, you will bring to the creation of that page all the knowledge you have about your product or service.

If you create a web page which will be seen by people who are thoroughly committed to your company and what you sell, you can be fairly sure they will again give you the time of day when they find the page.

Not as much time as you will give to your own work probably, but enough to allow you to grab attention.

But now consider the opposite approach: the person who doesn’t know too much about you or your product and who has found your web page via a search engine. They click. How does that person see your advertisement?

Primarily, the answer is, in a flash. You’ve probably got one second to grab and hold that person’s attention.  Maybe less.

Even if that person has found your web page after reading an email of yours in which you suggest there is more information on this page, that person will still only give you a few seconds.  Maybe five at the most.

And if you don’t grab attention straight off you’ll lose the reader.  The web page will be moved away from and forgotten in a trice.

Which explains why grabbing attention is rather important.   But there is still a problem, because gaining attention is not as straightforward as it might seem.

It can be done in many different ways, and when we start looking at these ways we find that it is not just the effectiveness of grabbing attention that is important – it is also the frame of mind that the individual is left in once attention has been grabbed.

Consider these ways of grabbing someone’s attention.

  • Through putting an attractive picture in front of the individual.
  • By asking the individual a question that the individual finds interesting.
  • By showing the individual a video.
  • By shouting at the individual “50% discount!”

Now each of these approaches has its benefits and drawbacks.  For example, showing a person a video is ok if the individual is committed and willing to give you the time of day to sit and watch.  If not, they’ll move away.

And then, even if you do get the person to start watching the video you can still lose him/her if you don’t have a message and set of visuals that absolutely holds onto the person, no matter what.

The attractive picture can also grab attention, but then you have the issue of how you carry that attention over from the picture to the words you are going to use to describe your product or service.  The picture to words divide is one of the most problematic issues within advertising.

Of course, sometimes a picture can be highly relevant – there are some products that no one will consider without first seeing the picture. But if the picture isn’t relevant and exciting, you most certainly are going to lose the individual.

Shouting at the individual about the pricing can work – but the trouble is, it has been done so often that people are tending to believe it less and less these days.  And besides, a discount on what?  If the person doesn’t already think he/she needs this product, all the impact is lost – you’ve lost the chance to explain why he/she needs it.

And here’s a final thought: whatever you do, most of the people who hit your web page won’t buy there and then.  So what are you doing to collect the email addresses of those that do leave so you can attract their attention again?

Hamilton House has just produced a new short document, “How to create a web page that sells (and get the email addresses of the visitors who won’t buy)”. If you would like a copy please just drop an email to Chris@hamilton-house.com with the phrase “A web page that sells” in the subject line, and we’ll email it straight back to you.

Or if you would prefer to talk, give me a call on 01536 399 000.

Tony Attwood

Phone 01536 399 000

What are the two concepts that every really successful piece of advertising has?

The answer is quite simple: in fact being simple is half of the answer. The other half is clarity.

Which is why advertisers often talk about selling only one thing at a time – it keeps things simple.  Simplicity and clarity.

Now the first step in the journey towards simplicity and clarity is having a simple goal. Do you want to get an order here and now?  Do you want to get the reader to browse through your catalogue?  Do you want a visitor to your website to read more about this product?  Do you want to plant the seed of an idea?

Whatever you want the person to do as a result of your advert, this is what you need to focus on so that everything you do is related to that outcome.  In the case of this advert I want you to think, “actually these guys might know a thing or two about advertising, it will be worth my while finding out what they can do for me.”  Then you phone 01536 399 000.

This decision as to the outcome you want affects how you set out your advert.  If a marketing guru tells you that you need a video, ask yourself, will a video get that person nearer to making a phone call?

If it is suggested that you need a lot of pictures because “a picture is worth 10,000 words” are you sure that the picture/s will increase the chance of that phone call?

Having the goals of simplicity and clarity can help you decide.  A picture might help the piece “look good” but does that actually make for an increased chance of sales?  Does this enhance the simplicity?

Simplicity and clarity also means that you know exactly to whom you are writing.  Don’t try to draw in everyone no matter who they are; instead go for a particular group such as people who have never bought from you before.  Or people who know about you but use a competitor’s products, etc.

Simplicity and clarity also means using everyday language, even when talking technical.  If you do feel you really need to get into technical talk, save it for the website or a catalogue, by which time the potential customer has started to believe in you a bit more.

So you don’t want to say too much or use flowery language.  But there is one further special point here: beware cutting everything too much if you are writing an email or a sales letter.

People are used to sales letters and emails  being full of flowery language and hyperbole, which is why we have all learned to skim through such promotions.  So if you cut everything down to very little, your reader might skim through to the end so quickly he/she fails to pick up what you mean.

So if these ideas have made you feel that you now can see a better way to write adverts yourself, give it a go, and if it works that’s great, I’ve given you something.

If however you tried it, and found it took you a lot of time and you’ll still not satisfied, you might call Hamilton House and just say, “I’d like to tell you what we do, so you can tell me what you can do for me.”

The worst that can happen is you waste 10 minutes.  The best is that we do come up with ways of making your sales grow.

Tony Attwood


Phone 01536 399 000.



Why copying a standard form of opening is usually a very very bad idea

Many people who write commercial emails do only one form of research. They look at all the emails pouring into their inbox.

Then when they see one particular style or approach being repeated several times by several different companies they simply say, “ah – that must be the way to do it” and copy that style.

In effect, however, what they are doing is copying a style that they absolutely should not use, because almost all of these quick and easy to copy styles tend to be ineffective.  And the few that are ok tend to get overused so much that by the time people see your version, the style is the kiss of death.

You can spot these styles and approaches yourself if you ever study your inbox, but just to remind you, here’s one that has been doing the rounds for about six months.  I got this email this week.  It began…


I’ve made a couple of attempts to speak to you now.

For whatever reason we don’t seem to be able connect.


Now I know two things.  One is that I have been at my desk each day for the last couple of weeks.   And the other is that if anyone calls for me and I don’t answer in four rings the call goes to a colleague who makes a note for me.  Even if the person says, “I’ll call back later” I get a note saying there was a call but the person said, “I’ll call back.”

So I know this guy didn’t call.  But even without that knowledge, I think many people will see it as a fake.  He’s trying to make the reader think that he/she has missed something important, and through this go on and read.

But by starting out in this fake manner there is every chance that the result will simply be that the reader is alienated.  After all most readers will by now have seen this over and over and over again.

Yes it is a good idea to use good tactics to get readership, but those tactics don’t include being deliberately misleading.

Indeed, even if this writer had actually phoned me twice and failed to get through, would that make me more inclined to speak to him?  I doubt it.  Like rather a large number of people, I don’t like sales calls.

The most successful way of getting and holding attention in an email is by being quirky – but quirky writing is the hardest of all types of writing to pull off. If you want to see a quirky approach try taking a look at this and see what you think.

So most of us, most of the time, retreat into less than quirky writing and use the open interesting question:

What is the most effective way of raising response rates in direct marketing?

Something like that usually gets the result which “I have tried calling you” can never hope to get.

Tony Attwood




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There is one approach to getting sales which is incredibly simple but very rarely undertaken.

My last article developed the theme that the companies that explore and develop key areas of advertising always get the best results.

This is absolutely true – but I would also add that excellent results can be had by companies that do two other things: offer something free, and undertake research.

I’ll deal with “something free” here, and come to the research in the next piece.

“Something free” falls into two groups.  The first is the most obvious: a product that you have that could have a high perceived value to your customer but is of low cost or low value to you.

The key thing here is to avoid giving away anything that is outdated or is not selling because it is no good. If you do that your potential customer will simply feel cheated – even though it is free.  The old advertising adage that if you give away £10 notes someone will give it back because it is creased is true.  People are just as picky and difficult with free items as they are with paid for items.

You can, of course, give away a product on its own, or with a sale of something else, but just keep in mind – once you have given it away you have diminished the value, and it will be harder to get sales again – at least for a while.

The alternative is to give away information in terms of a report.  This doesn’t have to be extensive but it needs to include some key information that the recipient doesn’t have.  So it could be a report on various competing items of equipment that are available for a certain job, some “inside information” on how an industry is developing, or anything like that.

The point about both approaches is in part to be seen as a helpful company that can be relied upon, and in part to collect email addresses of firms that don’t know you or those who might have forgotten about you.

Thus you might put an advert for your report on your website and at the foot of the landing page for each product, so that if your potential customer chooses not to buy at that moment, you can still capture that person’s email address by getting them to ask for the report.

Then, having got the email address and sent on the report, you must enter the address in a database ready for emailing.

That might sound very simple indeed but it is where many firms go wrong.  The print out of the addresses just sits in a box, but the person asked to type them up has too much to do, and so doesn’t do it.  Or the list of addresses gets lost.  Or is never collected.

Indeed it is very common for Hamilton House to take on a client where the MD or head of marketing tells us that a list of enquirers and past customers exists, only for that person to be rather embarrassed to find the data has never been typed up.

Many reasons are given for not having the list – and some seem very valid, but they can all be overcome.  And they are worth overcoming, because a list of enquirers and buyers is just about your best marketing tool of all.

So we come to the final point: what do you do with the list?

My view is simple – you write to people at the very least once a month, but better once every week.  You give them information, help, support, advice, ideas – whatever is relevant to their line of business.  And from time to time you slip in an advert.

Thus most of the time you are telling the customer or potential customer what a great bunch of people you are – you are not trying week after week to get a sale.  But from time to time you do go for a sale.  In this way you build up people’s awareness of who you are, your reputation for being knowledgeable and helpful, and you get sales.

Now most firms don’t do this.  Either because they don’t get their list of past customers and enquirers together, or because they feel that people will be annoyed if you write to them too much.

In relation to the first point all I can do is encourage you to get your list sorted.  If you need help, Hamilton House can gather the data and type it up for you.

In relation to the second (mailing too often) I can tell you for certain that if your messages are interesting, entertaining, engaging or in any other way worth reading, people will welcome them.

If you would like to know more about these approaches to selling by gathering email addresses and emailing out information, please call 01536 399 000 or email Tony@hamilton-house.com

Tony Attwood



The companies that explore and develop three key areas of advertising always get the best results.

In my last commentary I suggested that changing the headline and the first couple of paragraphs of an email can often be the way forward, and I would stand by that suggestion.

It is also true that having two or three very different approaches to your advertising (such as moving from benefit-driven headlines to interesting open questions) can also be beneficial.

But it is also important to think about varying all the aspects of your marketing campaign, and this is where most companies that fail to bring in the level of sales they want actually slip up.

For apart from the message in an email advert (for example) there are four other major, major points that could have a particular impact on what you do, and that’s what I want to deal with here.

These four points are

●     Vary the medium

●     Vary the landing page

●     Vary the mechanism

●     Ask potential customers relevant questions.

Vary the medium

If you always use email to advertise, try a few other media such as a short run test with a postal campaign (300 letters is normally enough) or developing a blog (perhaps with the aid of a professional writer).  If there is a news accumulator for your product area (such as www.ukeducationnews.co.uk in the education market) getting regular news stories about your work listed there can be incredibly helpful.

Vary the landing page

We find that a very significant number of the companies that work with Hamilton House might get a large number of hits on their internet landing page (the page that deals with the specific product they are selling in the advert) but still they get no sales.

This is almost always because of the way the landing page is laid out.  Potential customers get there, but then stop.

You can tell this is the problem simply from the figures.  Your marketing company should (and most certainly would) tell you how many people have clicked through to the landing page.   If you are seeing only a handful of sales coming through as a result, then you will be able to change this very readily.

Indeed one of our most productive areas of work in terms of our customers is that of re-writing the landing page.

Vary the mechanism

One way to get a sale is to advertise a product and try to lead the customer straight to the buying point.  Another is to invite the customer to read a landing page (as above).  Another is to invite a phone call.  Another is to offer a free report, then offer a second free report, and then go for a sale after that (that’s called the Funnel Technique).

Each approach has its benefits so each is worth investigating.  (If you sell into the education sector there is a report on this type of approach available free.  It is advertised on the home page of our website.)

Gain insights from potential customers

Very few companies do any research.  Those that don’t, justify their position either by suggesting you can prove anything through questionnaires, or by the fact that they need sales now and don’t have time, or by the fact that it is all too expensive.

In fact research can be very low cost (we include it free of charge as part of our Velocity Plus campaign), very quick, and can give excellent information – it all depends on what you ask.

Here is just one example.  We had a client who was selling a product which he was convinced was unique.  We wrote the adverts on this basis and got no sales.  Our customer blamed us, and of course we neither like to fail nor to be blamed.

So at our own expense we wrote to our client’s potential customers and asked if they already had a product like this, and if so would they recommend what they had, or were they looking for one, etc.

The result showed that there indeed were products on the market which our client’s potential customers saw as being equivalent to what our customer was offering.  So the whole premise of the advert (that it was a unique product) was wrong and the advert failed.

In short, you have to know the mindset of your potential customer, and this knowledge can be gained through a simple questionnaire.  If you base your view entirely on an assumption, the whole campaign can slip away from you.

If you would like to know more about these four approaches please do call 01536 399 000.  We’re happy to talk through ideas without any obligation or charge.

Tony Attwood


●     “We tried email marketing – it was a total waste of time and money”

●     It’s not a good idea to run the same advert all the time.

●     Why is it that a product description and a statement of its benefits often isn’t the best way to sell?