The degree of preparation when starting a new writing job can make a huge difference to the time allocation needed. A Content Writer often has to decide whether it’s Rubbish In/Quality Out or Quality In/Quality Out? In other words, what is the tolerance level for dealing with projects that are poorly prepared and briefed for him or her? Does the copywriter always have to pull the rabbit out of the hat (in terms of creating good texts out of a poorly-prepared briefing)?
You’ll notice that I’ve not included the category Rubbish In/Rubbish Out. I don’t think that any self-respecting copywriter can supply an inferior job even if the job briefing was poorly prepared. Professional standards don’t allow for that. But the key question is “How much effort are you (the writer) prepared to make to turn something mediocre into something good”?
If you think about it for a moment, briefing a creative person to do something for you is quite challenging. You have to collect a lot of background material and foresee questions. What claims can a company really make about its products or services? Who are their main customer groups? What have they done for these people that is unusual and different? What does it mean to provide ‘faster and more personal service’? After all, you are the company expert. Your copywriter, on the other hand, is a stranger who needs time to pick up your business story. Let me illustrate with two kinds of briefing (both inadequate) that I’ve had to deal with in the past:
“You know what I mean…” – You have a first appointment with your client (well, actually it’s a primary meeting where you try to get the dimensions of the job prior to submitting your quotation). The website is outdated and there’s a lot of new stuff to review. You are given a verbal briefing of sorts and try to write things down – although it’s patchy. At the end of the meeting you say “Yes, that was very interesting…but you will be sure to send me a full pack of background material plus a list of your competitors, won’t you”? Your soon-to-be- client happily agrees. Later on, you get a list of competitor sites plus a couple of pages of general description. Out of that you have to fashion a full web site. You try to pick through the competitor sites along the way to putting some reasonable texts together. But it’s all too thin – and in the end you find yourself investing a lot of time trying to guide the client in what a proper Job Brief should havegiven you in the first place!
“Never mind what you wrote, listen to me…” – This comes at a later stage. Let’s say you’ve tried to process all the relevant information you can and eventually come up with a reasonable Draft Text (although you suspect that perhaps it’s only 50% on target at the moment). You send it to your client and wait for a detailed review of your work (areas of the text marked ‘this is good’ or ‘this is wrong, and here’s why’). You wait for a response and nothing comes. Eventually you call and your client says ‘Come around and we’ll go through it’. You turn up, but instead of Client and Copywriter reviewing the written text, your client places your work to one side and says’ “I haven’t really read what you wrote, but here’s the way things are…”. Now you’re in another interview situation where you’re trying to catch all the important stuff. A huge amount of extra work is facing you and you have no way of building on what you’ve already done.
In both cases, this is highly frustrating for the Copywriter. There really needs to be understanding by the client that unless full and comprehensive information is given, good copywriting cannot be delivered. I can extract good information out of background information, but I need a critical mass first. How can I write 100 words if I only get 100 words from the client? I need at least 400. As a Content Writer, I’m not being paid to collect the background information – yet too often I find myself having to add this extra service without charge.
Here are some suggestions if you’re doing copywriting for anyone:
1) State that you will prepare up to four Drafts of a job – assume that you will get 50% right the first time, 75% the second time, 90% the third time and final tuning the fourth time.
2) Ensure that you have full information about the subject you’re going to write about – taken from the client’s old website, brochures, adverts, internal papers, slide shows and competitors’ stuff.
3) Put together a Fact List before you start crafting your copywritten texts.
4) When you start to write draft texts, insist that each version becomes a stepping stone to the next draft. Get annotations made on the page.
5) If several people are to review your texts, agree to have one person within the company coordinate all replies before passing comments on to you.
6) Track the number and dates of each revision. If you go beyond Draft Five then there’s something wrong, warning bells should start ringing.
7) Get a formal approval back from your client that “Yes, this is the Final Copy, no more changes”.