Where it all began
A fresh-faced Paul Ayling is working for the leading global PR firm Text100. In addition to his work with Tektronix, Systems Union, Wang and DEC, he is heavily involved in the UK launch of Word 1.0 for DOS from a little-known start-up called Microsoft. It is during the course of this work that he discovers a clever structuring tool built into Word, called Outline View. This sparks Paul’s imagination, and sows the very first seeds of what is to become the Structured Writing Method™.
Paul takes the leap from Text100 and London to set up his own agency in Winchester: Writing Machine. It is the UK’s first agency specialising in message-based copywriting and editorial consultancy, and at the heart of all projects is an early version of his Structured Writing Method. Clients send and receive projects by post and fax, but writing is – of course – done in an early version of Microsoft Word’s Outline View.
A growing team
The Writing Machine team is growing, and we’re building up an impressive client base – including Northern Telecom and Sequent.
With business booming, the company starts working with freelance writers. Because freelance copywriters don’t exist in the 1990s, the only choice is to use magazine feature-writers and journalists. However, they don’t typically know about marketing, or how to structure a document to suit a marketing objective. Paul therefore spends a lot of time totally reworking their copy.
(The good news is he can do this super-fast in Microsoft Word’s Outline View!)
The birth of ‘editorial definitions’
A particularly fraught job creating a positioning brochure for Northern Telecom’s Magellan division gives the team some new perspective. In order to satisfy competing demands from different senior people on three continents, the brochure needs to be rewritten no fewer than 12 times – and no extra budget has been set aside to do this.
So, from this point onwards, Writing Machine produces ‘editorial definition’ documents at the start of each project, and ensures they are signed off by clients before any writing commences.
“To this day, the editorial definition process is at the heart of the way Writing Machine Agency works, and is what the ‘storyboarding’ process in Structured Bid Writing is all about. As we know from first-hand experience, it really can transform the effectiveness (and stress levels) of teams working together to produce important documents.”
Kristel Brown, Account Director. Writing Machine Agency
Digital baby steps
Clients can now email the Writing Machine team by using the snappy email address email@example.com. (Don’t try using this address now – you may get sucked into a time warp.)
Welcoming our writing team
Following the struggles with freelance journalists, the company decides to hire a team of junior writers. They are trained in marketing writing and in the Structured Writing Method. Before they are allowed to do any actual writing, they must get an ‘editorial definition’ approved by their client.
Introducing bid support
An interesting request from a customer pushes us to develop a brand new offering: bid support.
It starts with a call from a client working in the marketing department of a large global IT company. He asks if we can send a writer to work on-site for two weeks to support his colleague in the sales team with some writing for a live bid.
It’s our first foray into the bid world – and it’s enlightening. This document, worth £60m to the business, is being produced last-minute by a team running on adrenaline and working around the clock. The messaging is retro-fitted, the structure is non-existent, the writing is poor and stress levels are high. We do our best given the circumstances, but we’re aware it’s like putting a plaster on a gaping wound.
We know there must be a better way!
So, a lot of research and development later, we create a host of new services just for the bid world: competitive message development, executive summary writing, pre-written content development and the very first Structured Bid Writing course.
New: writing training services
Our unique way of working is gaining attention. Clients are curious of our methods, and envious of the efficient ways in which we produce documents. “Why can’t you train us to do that?” they ask.
We always listen to our clients! So we develop our very first training course: Structured Marketing Writing. We deliver it to 150 people in London working for the UK government’s exporting organisation, UK Trade and Investment.
A new training company
Writing Machine training courses are going from strength to strength, teaching the Structured Writing Method to more and more people. Their success leads us to launch a series of new writing courses under a brand new training business: WM Training.
WM Training is delivering more training courses than ever and building an impressive reputation. But the company starts to consider a new way of delivering writing training: eLearning.
“While our courses teach the Structured Writing Method very effectively in the classroom, it’s always been the case that practice makes perfect. The time spent using the method is what truly embeds the learning and delivers real benefits. It struck me that making it available online would give people the chance to go over the detail of the method as often as they like. And with eLearning technologies truly starting to take off, I could see a great business opportunity that we simply couldn’t ignore.”
Paul Ayling, Founder and CEO, Writing Machine
Writing Machine Academy eLearning goes live
After years of planning, in-depth technical development and content crafting, Writing Machine’s first eLearning courses go live! These online versions of our bid and business writing courses are added to our portfolio of classroom courses, bringing the Structured Writing Method to more people than ever before.
Importantly, these courses – Structured Bid Writing and Structured Business Writing – are accessible on PC, tablet and mobile. So anyone can use them anywhere there’s an internet connection.
WM Training is rebranded as Writing Machine Academy.
A unique editorial partnership
Together, Writing Machine Agency and Writing Machine Academy create a powerful new proposition. Years of expertise in writing, training and now eLearning mean that we are uniquely placed to help our customers build a strategic solution to their editorial challenges – either across a whole department, or a whole organisation.
New: classroom blended and virtual classroom blended learning
eLearning is going from strength to strength, and proving to be a perfect way for learners to study the Structured Writing Method. But there is still great value to be had from getting people together in the classroom or in a virtual classroom.
To that end, we develop our blended learning propositions. Delegates get to spend time working with our experienced writing trainers in the classroom or virtual classroom, before turning to our online courses to reinforce and build on the learning.
Writing Machine Agency is drawing on three decades of editorial expertise to continue to help our customers solve a variety of their toughest marketing and bid writing challenges.
The Ambassador Programme goes live
We want to support our customers when they roll out our eLearning courses to their teams. So we develop the Ambassador Programme: a suite of presentation materials, template emails and guides. These are designed for a company’s eLearning ‘Ambassador’ to use to empower and inspire delegates, encouraging maximum uptake of and value from our courses.