Justin Rubner

Posts Tagged ‘Rules of copywriting’

Adventures in Copyland: Twelve Things Every Copywriter Should Know

In copywriting on 03/18/2010 at 9:17 pm

As a writer, I’ve had my share of pats on the back from editors, congrats from readers, and thank yous from clients.

I’m not the least bit embarrassed to say I’ve had a project or two implode right before my unsuspecting eyes. Because every writer, even the best of them, has had this happen.

All copywriters should have rhino skin

Writing’s a funny thing. All of us can do it. So all of us have opinions when we see it. I say that because copywriting, and marketing in general, is very subjective. Because it’s subjective, it’s impossible to say every project you do will make the client dance for joy. But if you follow some key rules, you can substantially  limit a project from getting out of hand.

I’m confident these rules will make you a better marketing professional. They certainly make me a better one.

Off we go:

  1. Ask questions. This is the most important thing you can do. Copywriting is tough. You often have to write with authority on a topic… like you’re an expert on it…even if the topic is out of your expertise. The only way you can do this is to ask questions. A lot of them. This may be a tad annoying to the client. But if you don’t get something right, even one thing, the client can tend to think you don’t have anything right. If your client or agency doesn’t understand this, educate them. How can they realistically expect you to write engaging, in-depth–and even accurate–content by pulling it out of thin air?
  2. Establish a chain of command. There can only be one head chef. And there should only be one initial point of contact. Have one person, and one person only, be the first to read your content. If you send your first draft to multiple people, there will be chaos. Especially on a big, complex project. After you’ve made the initial contact’s edits, send the second version to a small, select group, maybe section heads. Have all edits filter through one person. Once those edits are made, send it to the head chef–the CEO or VP of Marketing–for final approval. Bottom line, eliminate unnecessary cooks from the chain of command.
  3. Work collaboratively with the designer. Design should not dictate copy. Copy should not dictate design. If the designer thinks content is just boring words to fill empty spaces on a pretty page, you’re going to have problems. If you think design is just something to hold your brilliant copy, you’re also going to have problems.
  4. Stay involved till the sun sets. Other cooks in the kitchen should not be making major edits without your involvement. I can’t believe how much this happens, but it’s something you have to stay vigilant about. Other people, especially non writers, should simply not be making these kinds of decisions. I’m not saying other people can’t have input. Just the opposite actually. You want–you need–that input. But you also need to be involved. You should push back on this. Because it’s your name on it…even if someone else changes it.
  5. Establish expectations about edits. Content on a big project is going to require edits. That is unavoidable. Educate the client early on that you fully expect edits and that edits are a natural part of the process.
  6. Establish what’s expected of you. This may seem simple. But it can actually be easy to go off in a direction not intended by the client. This can be solved by listening. If you can’t listen, you’re not an effective communicator. If you aren’t an effective communicator, you’re no writer.
  7. Establish expectations about time. This is a biggie. Almost every client I’ve ever had has wanted a project “yesterday.” They often can’t understand why a writing project should take a month or more. Well, when you figure in meetings, research, brainstorming, writing, fact checking, edits and feedback, it will take much more time than most clients, and even the writers themselves, expect. Would you rather a client be ticked off because your project was three weeks late?
  8. Take copious notes. Often times, the best copywriters are simply the best note takers. Take the most savvy, pithy quotes and weave parts of them in your writing. Not only will you hit the point better, but clients will think you’re Joe Cool when they see their own words. Consciously, they may not even know why they love it so much.
  9. Make sure the first thing they see is the best thing. This is something I’ve failed to follow several times as a reporter and marketer. I’m going to tell you how editors and clients, most of them at least, act when the first sentence or two doesn’t hit the mark: They’re going to think the rest of it doesn’t hit the mark either. A poor headline or lead has led to the editor or client instantly discounting the rest of my work. Conversely, I’ve also had brilliant leads or heads to start the project out–and average body content that still needed work–and they think I’m David Ogilvy. As a near perfectionist when it comes to writing, I hate both of these scenarios. Because I want all of my work to shine.
  10. Don’t be afraid to disagree. Your clients are experts at what they do. You’re an expert at marketing. If they’re saying something you think won’t work from a marketing standpoint, by all means speak up. They’ll respect you for it.  Someone once told me most clients want you to tell them what to do…not the other way around. This may be hard for some consultants to comprehend, but it’s true.
  11. Lose the ego. You may be a great writer. But, as I said before, there are infinite ways to write something. The chances of the client liking the first one, at least for a first-time client, is small. And, at the end of the day, it’s all about making the client happy…not you.
  12. Grow rhino skin. If you let criticism affect you personally, your confidence will be shaken. Confidence is what allows us to take chances. When a copywriter ceases to take chances, he or she ceases to become a real copywriter. This advice especially works when a project disintegrates. I’ve “rescued” my share of other copywriters’ imploded projects, and have been commended for it. I’m sure the opposite has happened too. It will happen to you. But don’t let it get you down…

Because the next project is right around the corner.



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