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Nine Copywriter Woes: Mistakes to Avoid With Your Copywriter

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Knowing what makes your copywriters tick—versus what ticks them off—can mean all the difference between a healthy work environment and a dysfunctional one.

Without even knowing it, you may be hindering project success and timelines.

In the nearly two decades that I've been writing copy, nine faux pas have remained constant despite the evolution of marketing; help yourself and your copywriter by steering clear of the following common blunders.

1. The Dreaded Incomplete Creative Brief

Fill it out—completely. We loathe incomplete and shoddy creative briefs. You want the job in the queue fast, but it's not going anywhere without detailed information. Sometimes we don't have the technical or product knowledge needed to write about your requested subject matter, so filling out a creative brief entirely and thoughtfully—as well as attaching product sheets, presentations, or other relevant background information—will aid in our understanding and speed up your project request.

2. No Time to Research

Rome wasn't built in a day. Your requested content may not be, either. Have you ever tried to write about something you know little about? Well, copywriters do it all the time. We know a little about a lot... because we have to. But, before we can write intelligently, especially product-focused copy (product sheets, whitepapers, case studies, presentations, etc.), we need to become an expert—which sometimes doesn't happen in a day.

3. Lack of Distinct Differentiators

When you don't know what differentiates your product or service from its competitors, our job becomes really difficult.

Why would customers choose you over the competition? What product features or functionalities are proprietary to your offering? What metrics and statistics can you provide?

Good copywriters may discover your key competitive advantages for you, especially if given enough information or if they're actively involved in the business. Otherwise, be sure to provide at least three top competitive advantages/benefit statements for marketing-driven content, and preferably some statistics or metrics to back them up.

4. Unwanted Grammar Lessons

Copywriting is sometimes not traditionally grammatically correct. This isn't the Latin-obsessed 17th century, so get on board with modern English. Today, for style and emphasis, sentences sometimes start with conjunctions, like "but" and "and"—and, occasionally, end with prepositions.

5. Undermining Our Value

There seems to be some ambiguity about what makes a copywriter a "real" copywriter. I once got a slap in the face (figuratively) from a potential client: She compared me to the person who writes her monthly blog post. Here's the thing—no offense to blog writers, because some blog writers are skilled copywriters—just because you blog or have a blog does not mean you are a copywriter. Anyone can have a blog. And just because Kim Kardashian tweets daily doesn't mean she's a qualified social media copywriter. If your copywriter is for real, recognize and acknowledge them accordingly. Which leads me to my next point...

6. Recognizing 'Real' Credentials

Here's the thing: More content is being produced than ever before. In fact, 76% of B2B marketers plan to create more content in 2016 than they did a year earlier (that's up from 70% who said so in 2015). Yet, despite more content, copywriter job growth is projected at only 3%, which means a whole lot of content is not being written by copywriters.

As a business, you need to know what to look for in a "real" copywriter if you want to protect and promote your company's reputation and brand. Copywriters should have...

  • Knowledge of AP Style
  • Proven performance in writing, editing, proofing, and fact-checking in a deadline-intensive environment
  • Preferably, a publishing background
  • An undergraduate degree in communications, journalism, or English (Don't underestimate English majors if you're looking for a writer with versatility and strategic backbone.)

Hiring your copywriter on a freelance or contract basis before hiring them as full-time employees will allow you to discover whether they click with your team and their writing style and other skills (creative, strategic, and investigative abilities) meet your needs.

7. Ascertaining Our 'Type'

When hiring, many companies focus on a specific type of writer, such as "digital," "social," "Web," or "corporate." In reality, most of us are more versatile than your job title or description. For example, many copywriters can write for the Web even though they're not "digital" copywriters, per se.

That said, not taking into account technical and legal writers, in my experience there are typically two types of writers in the business world: creative and corporate.

  • A creative copywriter's sweet spot is just that—creativity. Churning out clever ad content and concepts, snappy headlines, and posts all day for diverse brands and media needs—print, digital, social, video, etc.
  • A corporate writer, on the other hand, may change hats all day long, writing copy for ads, marketing collateral, Web content, presentations, whitepapers, articles, and press releases. Their versatility is an asset in corporate environments.

Certainly there is crossover among copywriter types, but knowing (in a broad sense) which "type" you need—and understanding your copywriter's strengths—will increase productivity as well as overall employee and team satisfaction.

8. Mind Readers, We Are Not

"What's the word I'm looking for?" Ever said that to your copywriter? We are intuitive, but we're not mind readers—nor walking dictionaries or thesauruses. Do your best to be articulate and provide as much information in writing as possible, especially for sensitive, technical, personal, or product-based requests.

Having a draft to work from saves valuable time. We can rewrite and edit your work to perfection, but you need to give us something to work from—even if it's terribly written (we won't judge). We just don't want to guess. (And when making corrections by hand, please make them legible! If corrections are digital, don't rewrite our copy; use the "Track Changes" and "Comments" tools whenever possible.)

9. Your Pet Peeves Are a Pain in the Patootie

One of my clients wanted industry news articles summarized in one sentence and posted to Facebook... As a workaround, I became best friends with the semicolon.

Another client had a particular word (not a bad word, just a specific noun/verb, depending on the context) that was forbidden. Another despised dashes—which, used sparingly, can be truly useful.

Moral of the story: recognize that your peculiarities may sometimes undermine performance and content.

But, You're the Boss

In the end, it's your call. You're the client and your copywriters should do what's requested of them regardless of whether their opinion aligns with yours. If we share our opinion, listen; we may be even more informed than you, or maybe we'll offer fresh perspective. But, it's equally our job to respect your decision, your authority, or your being privy to the big picture... and make the revisions you ask for. (And, no, ending the previous sentence with a preposition was not a mistake.)

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Jennifer Smoldt is a marketing consultant, copywriter, content strategist, and founder of Precision Marketing & Communications, where she helps companies discover and market their distinct differentiators.

LinkedIn: Jennifer Smoldt

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  • by Ravi Jay Mon Jan 18, 2016 via web

    Interesting article. One of the major woes just like any other technical job is micro-managing. In that who takes responsibility when the project goes astray. Seems like copywriting can be more like dictation at times.

  • by Lisa Pierson Mon Jan 18, 2016 via web


    Thanks so much for this article - I will have to share with some of my copywriting clients :) I especially appreciate #3.


  • by Peter Altschuler Mon Jan 18, 2016 via web

    Great copywriters are also great researchers, and their ability to learn subject matter quickly makes them invaluable (and helps them make up for many of the very real shortcomings - on the client side - that you cite). And the best among us can shift between what you segregate as "creative" and "corporate" which is not a very flattering distinction.

    Agency people tend to sneer at in-house corporate writers who, in turn, may feel that agency "creatives" sacrifice content for style. There's probably validity in both points of view. Yet competent copywriters, no matter where they work, can make the most complex information palatable (and even entertaining) for any reader... without sacrificing essential and often highly technical information. In terms of what's now called content marketing (a practice that's been an inextricable part of B2B marketing for a century), that "translation" skill, plus the ability to write for a wide range of readers, is invaluable.

    Of course, as you point out, clients are the ultimate arbiters. And, if they're not sensitive to the power of the written word to motivate and persuade, instead of just inform, they won't get what they need. They'll get what they deserve.

  • by Melanie Merrifield Mon Jan 18, 2016 via web

    Some of these hit tragically close to home! Thanks for a good overview of common writer woes. As I explained when once asked to write a brochure about software to run nuclear reactor plants, copywriters have to actually UNDERSTAND the subject matter. Designers get more of a free pass on that front. Nice article, Jen!

  • by Laurie Mon Jan 18, 2016 via web

    Really enjoyed this. I recall once being told -- quite condescendingly -- by a client that I should never have started a sentence with but, because "it's bad grammar." There was no convincing her otherwise after being put on the defensive like that. She wound up basically writing her own (bland) copy.

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