Sometimes even the smallest amounts of content can completely undo the good work you are trying to do. In last month’s Melbourne Magazine there was a full-page advertisement for Mission Australia. It included information about what the charity does as far as helping families find affordable accommodation. Unfortunately it started with the following statement:

In 2007-08, government funded shelters turned away 80% of Australian couples with children every day.

There’s an asterisk at the end of that statement that says the statistic comes from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. I can tell you now that it doesn’t.

What Mission Australia is saying is that more than 80% of Australian couples with children applied for shelter in government housing, implying they were in some way homeless.

In the Australian 2006 Census off-shoot, “Counting the Homeless”, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were an estimated 105,000 homeless people in Australia.

This means that about 0.5% of the Australian population is homeless.

In contrast, in the same census, there were about 2.4 million couples with children in Australia.

Yes, I’ve gone to great, even ridiculously exaggerated, efforts to show that some copywriter somewhere made a terrible mistake. They meant to say that of the Australian couples with children who applied for government funded shelter any given day, 80% were denied.*

This is a terrible mistake for Mission Australia. It is, in effect, misleading advertising that can affect how the charity is perceived in the market. Would a potential donor prefer to give money to a charity that makes outlandish claims? Someone could think that, rather than an error in copy-writing, this is an attempt by the organisation to make themselves sound even more important and necessary than they already are.

This may seem like an overly dramatic and pedantic argument. Of course people are going to understand that somebody made a mistake and didn’t read through their copy properly. That’s just the point, though. They didn’t read through their copy properly which means they weren’t fully aware of what they were publishing.

When I do consultations about content strategy, most of what I’m doing is trying to make my clients aware of what they’re publishing. It’s sometimes a long and complicated process because they’ve never thought about their business in that particular way before.

It’s very difficult to distil everything a business does into a single, simple yet accurately descriptive sentence. Sometimes it’s easier to mention a problem and then talk about solving that problem. That’s what Mission Australia does in their ad and it either makes them sound ignorant or like super heroes.

The first step, though, is always to work out what it is that a business does. Read it out loud, refine it and read it out loud again until it rings true. From there it’s easier to work out what the message is and read that out loud to see if it complements the description.

Every step of creating content for a website needs to be tied back to the original business description and message. You should be able to create a flow diagram to show exactly how it relates. Reading things aloud or tying things together through concept diagrams will be the barriers to letting misleading or inappropriate content hit the public sphere.

Not only will you avoid a potentially embarrassing situation, your organisation will be a lot better understood in the market place and a lot more likely to receive the response you were anticipating.

* It’s quite possible that that is a statistic from the AIHW. I tried to find it but I couldn’t so we’ll never know.

About Josh Kinal

Josh Kinal specialises in content strategy with Soupgiant. A writer and broadcaster since 1993, he turned his hand to the web in 2005 and has not looked back since.

He hosts and produces the weekly Boxcutters podcast, bringing people information about the whole world of television since 2005.

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