Hot-damn Shelly Davies

March 2017

Shelly Davies, managing director of Hamilton-based Shelly Davies Writing & Training , has recently bounced unconventionally and entertainingly into the communications landscape. Her brand is unapologetically different and her services highly sought-after. She’s one of the presenters at Collaborate2017 where her topic is: Just look at our hot-damn selves. She caught up with Jim Costello this week to discuss her views.

The title of your presentation – just look at our hot-damn selves – what is that about?

My focus is brand. I sat at the Clarity conference in December and heard someone wonder, “why are we struggling to get our message across? Why isn’t plain language getting more traction? Why are so many people and professions so slow to take it on board?” And I looked around the room and thought, maybe we just aren’t showing the world that clear communication is sexy.

Basically, we’re all trying to make a living – as writers, plain language practitioners, editors, technical communicators. We’re either marketing ourselves as employees of businesses who want our services, or we’re running our own businesses who are then trying to sell those services to other businesses. In both of these situations I think we have room to make ourselves look a whole lot more colourful and diverse – appealing. So it’s really about appeal.

We are so, so good at stripping back the excess, deleting the fluff, focusing on the key messages, that I think we often strip out the personality, too. I think we need to put some back.

Are there a lot of ways that can be done?

Yes. And I only have some of the answers. I can only talk about what’s worked for me. But to start with I think our services need a face. We know as writers that people connect with personal things. We use personal pronouns and names and all those kinds of things in our writing because we know those make our readers feel more connected and engaged. So how about we extend that to the way that we package ourselves and our services? Let’s make sure that we have a face and a name – personality, character. Especially when it comes to images. I would say that 9 out of 10 – or maybe even 10 out of 10 – plain language or technical communication websites that you look at around the world have stock images of people in corporate suits. They’re not even images of the actual staff from that company. They’re stock images. They’re bland. Bland corporate. And I think that’s a lost opportunity.

I noticed you put a lot of yourself on your website...

Well yeah, it’s pretty in your face! My brand is over-the-top-personal, probably egotistical, and I get that. I’m not suggesting that’s what everyone has to do. My own journey has brought me to this point and the confidence level is fairly extreme! It’s not for everyone. This is the fourth iteration of my website and my brand in as many years. My previous website and brand had images of me, but it was more toned down for a wider corporate appeal. What you’re seeing now is my next level of development: I’m just going to tell you and show you clearly what you’re going to get. If it’s not for you – all good! There are other people out there who can do what you want. But if you want me you know what you’re getting and there are no surprises.

I run trainings with Kathmandu in Christchurch. Last year, after our first training, they said to me, “You need new pictures! We got so much more than we were expecting!” I realised that the way I was selling myself was toned down, but in person I don’t hold back. That was the turning point for my next iteration. I said to myself, “You know that people love what they get, Shelly, so why are you worried about being up front about that?”

So what you’re saying is: promote yourself as who you are?

Yes, basically. Authenticity sells. What I’m doing is making waves. It’s standing out, not just getting attention in New Zealand but internationally, and that’s because it’s so unusual for one of us to put our face to our writing services. As an industry we’re just not in the habit of putting our authentic voice out there when we market ourselves.

Have you had feedback about your website from clients?

Oh yes! It’s only been live for a month and I’ve had three new clients including Wellington Airport, the Department of Corrections, and a national surveying and engineering firm. Other writers often see my website and say to me how much they love it but how they can see it’s not going to appeal to a corporate market. Well, the market is telling me that’s simply not true. Authentic brands sell. It’s as simple as that. We might be B2B but we’re still people interacting with other people. Ultimately it’s always that – personal communication.

When potential clients have checked out my website they approach me as humans. They’re relaxed, real. They have no pretense and no traditional formality in their written comms. They say, “Hey Shelly, you look freaking awesome! We’d love to get you to come and help us improve our writing.” Deals have been sealed very quickly – in a matter of a few emails, and without any face to face meetings. I’ve eliminated the steps between getting my foot in the door and sitting at the table. That’s happening very seamlessly.

So you’re presenting yourself in such a way that there’s no doubt about who and what your clients are going to get?

Yup. It was a very calculated risk to present myself that way. I knew that this brand won’t work for everybody, and I’m fine with that. It’s something that I was and am still very conscious of. I have a good enough client base now that I don’t need to appeal to everyone. Unapologetic is how I describe it. And that’s coming across as very, very confident.

Clearly you know what’s important to you

Yeah, I do. And I think that’s part of my personal development, too. I’m a woman revelling in the confidence and freedom and self-assuredness of her forties. I’m not alone in that – all around me I see women my age saying, “f*ck it, we just don’t care anymore about what people think.” We’re being us. We’re living our truth.

There are so many elements in this whole discussion about brand, packaging, and authenticity. But in a nutshell the conversation I want to have at Collaborate2017 starts with: Let’s not be so plain that the world doesn’t find us appealing. Because look at your hot-damn selves!