I have been commissioning B2B copy, internal and external, since the dawn of the PC and up to the present social media content frenzy.
In all my roles as marketing manager, director, and CMO, I have received crap copy, I have missed deadlines, and I have busted budgets by using the wrong writers for the job.
Copywriting jobs are certainly not all equal: They require different skills, different types and levels of experience, and different styles that come at very different prices. Finding the right fit is difficult, but it is possible to reduce the risks of wasted time, money, and (in my case) hair.
Analyzing the jobs that went wrong for me over the years, I find three common issues:
- The writer was incompatible.
- The writer category was incorrect.
- The writer selection process was incomplete.
Many writers come as a result of recommendations from colleagues; but, as with restaurants, opinions can be subjective (one man's meat, etc.). Copy requires close working relationships, so personalities are important. The wrong match can make the process painful.
I've learned to avoid—at all cost—three types of B2B copywriter:
- Enthusiastic Amateurs—lovely people who haven't got a clue about B2B. They may be great at restaurant reviews or describing jewelry, but they can't cut the mustard (sorry...) in business.
- Budding Bards—just filling in until they write their bestseller, movie script, chartbuster... They write for beauty, not to drive engagement; and for them time is a nebulous concept, so deadlines stretch, a lot.
- Billy Big Nuts—knows it all; he is an expert in every industry and honors us with his presence, opinions, fees, and more opinions. Often, the most frustrating type of B2B copywriter.
Finding the right people is tough. Google search spits out thousands of them; associations, hundreds; and content mills have "experienced" writers willing to work for £10... yeah, right!
To generate a regular stream of quality content, you need relationships with a range of writers, experienced in your industry/solution, who write in the style you need and who are available on demand.
Let's be clear: There are great B2B writers out there, people who know their trade and deliver the goods on time and to the brief, adding value to the entire process. Those guys and gals can form your trusted circle of content creators.
So how do you find them?
After many, many years of working with copywriters, I've built a simple classification that I use to group writers into a short list. Then I run individual appraisals so I can find the best fit for my requirements.
Writers come in all shapes and sizes, but they can be broadly categorized into five groups for B2B marketing purposes:
- Descriptive: These writers build professional copy to describe products, services, customers, markets, research, surveys, etc. They can work from standard templates to ensure conformity, they write clear and concise copy, and they turn jobs around in days or even hours. They should also have the most reasonable rates.
- Promotional: These are more creative souls who shun the structure of descriptive copy for impactful messaging that grabs attention long enough to get a click, call, or download. They can pull buyers along a decision path to a CTA, but they are rarely the right guys to write influential copy; it always reads like a sales pitch. Shorter jobs, higher rates.
- Influencers: They were in the exclusive domain of PR agencies in the past, but now journalist freelancers often step in to fill the gap. These writers present your message in an indirect way that appears as an informed view on topical/industry issues. They write for both current-topic response and longer campaigns to build your followers. Prices depend on projects.
- Insightful: This is what many B2B copywriters aspire to be. These experienced writers specialize in certain sectors; they know their stuff, and they are capable of investigative analysis alongside the skills noted above. They can research and generate thought leadership material that earns attention and builds trust. Their prices reflect their business value.
- Acknowledged: These are respected voices of industry, technology, or process, whose name alone commands attention. The most expensive option, they can also provide the best ROI if your proposition fits well with their profile. They require longer planning because of availability issues and multiple revisions of copy. They want to ensure the finished article projects and protects their image in addition to fitting your objectives.
Once you have established your category requirements, it's time to determine the individual traits you value while avoiding amateurs, bards, and big nuts.
- Track record: If I don't know someone who knows the writer's work, I need to see copy they've written that's similar to the copy I need. I want experience, professional quality, and an understanding of the business area. If their copy doesn't sell them to me, then it's unlikely to sell to my customers.
- Costs: Forget the silly stuff... I can't risk my business on 10 quid/bucks for copy. But are their rates sensible? Can they give me a quote without a police interrogation, and are they flexible in how they charge? Big negatives: deposits, time and materials, expenses, and, if they can possibly be avoided, meetings.
- Time: If they don't get back to me quickly pre-job, I suspect the same will happen during the project. I need to believe they can quote accurate timescales, with partitioning and milestones for larger jobs—which also demonstrates their understanding of the process and respect for deadlines.
- Attitude: So important. In B2B writing, I need a business-professional approach—without temperamental personalities. The brief may alter, deadlines can change, and decisions can be delayed... but cool heads work around, jump over, or drive through barriers to get the job done on time.
- Style: Some experienced writers can manage multiple styles, but in most cases I need to ensure a good match. The customer is always right, and the writer has to fit style to the requirements—from a dash of humor to IBM corporate-speak. At ROLIN, we need different styles for different customers, so we use a range of writers.
The expansion in B2B content demand has dramatically increased the need for writers of all categories. It's also flooded copywriter ranks with raw recruits who are missing hardened business experience. So although composing catchy blog posts is cool, engaging high-value business buyers through long purchase cycles is a much bigger call.
Take the time to build your trusted circle of content creators; doing so will save you time, money, and—most important—pain.
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