I’ve been paid to write for a living — much to my parents’ awe — for nearly a decade now. And while a lot has changed in that decade (RIP, Vine), one thing remains disturbingly constant: the struggle most clients have when talking to the person they pay to write content for them.
This can be a freelancer, in-house copywriter, or agency connection. I’ve been all three throughout my career. I’ve heard it all. So rather than write another article aimed at sharing my headaches with fellow copywriters, I wanted to put together this helpful (and hopefully humorous) article for clients, companies, and everyone in between.
What to Know About Your Copywriter and Content Marketer
Whether they’re in-house or an agency partner, a few things are likely true about your content writer.
- They know grammar. When we tell you that comma splice won’t fly, we mean it. If you fight us, we’re never afraid to toss a dictionary or AP Style guide at your head.
- All creatives have a style, whether they’re a designer or copywriter. If you hire a copywriter with the expectation of them reading your mind or doing exactly what you tell them with no pushback, I recommend you invest in Minions and not creatives.
- They have a voice. More importantly, your writer knows how to use their voice appropriately.
- They read a lot. During our lunch breaks, Diana and I put down our forks and pick up well-worn paperbacks. Why does this matter? Because writers are also readers. We have to be. That’s how we learn how to sound like other writers. Speaking of which…
- Their tone and voice style can change. Right now, I’m using my “Informal Shelby Speak” (Trademark Pending). My grammar isn’t taking priority. I might slip in a “y’all” or two. My sentences get shorter. That’s how I write when I allow my voice to take center stage. But if I wrote for one of my technical clients, Informal Shelby Speak gets subbed out and replaced by Academic Shelby. All good copywriters adjust their tone, language, and even punctuation to match that of the client.
- They’re highly caffeinated. Bribe us with coffee.
What NOT to Say to Your Copywriters (and Why)
“This sounds weird/off.”
Few sentences make me cringe more than this one. What about it sounds weird? And how weird are we talking, on a scale of axolotl to blobfish?
“Can you make this pop?”
There, I did it.
“We have to write about this topic because [COMPETITOR X] is also writing about it.”
Not really, no. If a competitor writes about something, observe for inspiration but never feel compelled to write about a topic solely because your competition does. The old adage of writing stays true for content marketing: “write what you know.”
“Can you write this [long-form blog, case study, whitepaper] in an hour?”
If you held my dog for ransom, yes I could research, outline, write, and edit a piece of content about something I know nothing about within an hour. But please don’t hold Biscuit for ransom, and please don’t expect every writer to be able to do that. Copywriters often stay in the job because they love learning new concepts or diving into a different industry. However, decades of industry knowledge doesn’t appear overnight.
“Your blog needs to go viral.”
At On Target, we’re transparent about organic content performance. It takes anywhere from six months to a year to see organic SEO performance from a specific blog. If you dive into your company’s Google Analytics, I can almost guarantee the highest performing blog (barring a lot of social media traffic) is one that’s a few years old.
“Your job is so easy.”
I once had someone tell me that all I did was “s*** out copy.” For obvious reasons, that should never ever ever ever slip out of your mouth. You hired a copywriter because you lack the time, energy, talent, resources, or combination thereof to write for your company. DO NOT disrespect them or their expertise. (I’ll also go ahead and apply this to social media marketing.)
How to Get What You Want Out of Content Marketing
Now that we’ve covered what not to say to your copywriters, what’s the most effective way to communicate what you want? Here are tips for taking the ideas from your brain, through their pen, and into a great piece of content:
The biggest constant between the issues listed above is a lack of specificity in what’s wrong. If the copy sounds “awkward,” check to see how many commas it has. Put on your high school English caps and look at the language being used. Maybe all the thoughts are there, they just need to be put in another order. Your copywriter might have one idea for how a concept or blog should look; you’ll likely have another. Copywriters don’t often have egos, but we do have confidence and competence in our work. If you tell us specifically WHAT you want and WHY you want it, we’ll give that to you.
This can be tough for companies who “want to sound exactly like Disney” but don’t have the faintest idea on how to get there. (Insider tip on that one: positive affirmations, exclamatory punctuation, and simple sentences.) If you have ideas on how you want your brand to sound, forward that inspiration on to your copywriting team! Sales sheets, ad copy, blog posts, shampoo bottles — everything is up for grabs. However, you shouldn’t expect your copywriters to plagiarize someone else’s work. Do not send them “ideas” when you really want them to copy. Creativity is hard, but it’s always worth it. (Plus it saves your brand the damaging label of “a rip off.”)
Have a purpose for the content.
Content strategists like myself normally have a rhyme and reason for what we write. However, those purposes can get lost in the shuffle, especially if directions are coming to copywriters from “the Higher Ups.” If you know you need an email blast, have a clear “why.” Content marketing contains strategy in both messaging and timing. Be sure that the content you suggest serves a purpose beyond your own.
Commas, syntax, sentence structures — these are some of the ingredients to successful content marketing. Brush up on your English grammar, and you’ll be able to speak more of our language. Literally.
Nailing a brand’s voice takes time. If you’re onboarding a marketing team or an internal copywriter, give them a window of opportunity to take risks, make mistakes, and learn. Also, maybe juuuust maybe, you’ll like the different style they use or discover a risk that paid off!
Going from concept to final product takes time, sanity, and know-how. Whether you struggle with clear communication or generating new ideas, we’re here to help. On Target has been around for over 15 years, and we’ve learned how to interpret every “this sounds weird” or “why is this wonky” into collateral our clients love. Feel free to give us a call at 407-830-4550 xt. 100. Or if calling isn’t your thing, fill out this form and get started: FUN CONTACT FORM YAY. Let’s talk about you and your company’s goals — zero obligation.