A copywriter, has the benefit of crafting a messages to convey exactly what he or she wants to say in just the way they want to say it. They meticulously consider every word, punctuation mark and line break. They vet and re-vet every argument. And if they find ourselves off topic, they delete and refocus.
These are obviously important skills to have, and a big reason people hire a copywriter. But these talents don’t exactly translate into the off-the-cuff spoken-word world. In fact, they’re an incredible hinderance because a copywriter relies on that time to get it right.
In situations where improvisation is necessary, many a copywriter is uncomfortable without a script to reference (normally a script they wrote). So they rely on a few little tricks to make real-world interactions a bit easier. And really, these tricks are for anyone who isn’t exactly Obama-ish in the spotlight.
Remembering People’s Names
The research required to be a good copywriter means we have a lot of material in our brains — often too much to remember people’s names. It’s embarrassing. It’s rude. And it’s inexcusable.
So we make sure to repeat the person’s name as quickly as possible.
“Hi, Mr. Copywriter. I’m Jane, your new point of contact.”
NO: “Hi! Nice to meet you. I’m Dan.
YES: “Hi, Jane. Nice to meet you. I’m Dan.”
Then, if you can sneak away to the corner of the room at some point, write their name down in your phone, along with a memorable, defining characteristic.
“Jane Joseph. Point of contact at client. Long red hair.”
It doesn’t have to be much at all, but the combination of saying it and writing it makes it far more likely that you’ll remember it.
And don’t be that person who repeats the person’s name over and over again in conversation. That’ll just make you sound weird.
Guiding a conversation
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” As a general rule, she was right. But when you’re nervous in a social situation, it might be easiest to engage your small mind and talk about people because at least you’ll feel able to contribute.
If you feel like that, try to steer the conversation towards ideas, but let the person you’re speaking to take the lead:
“Man, this party is lame. The host has such bad taste in music.”
NO: “And he’s ugly too.”
YES: Speaking of music, I read a great piece on the Re:word site about a playlist for writing and editing. I downloaded it. It starts with Hooverphonic and ends with Mumford and Sons. Do you think working with music makes you more or less productive?
Telling a joke
Telling a joke is a dangerous game in social situations for three reasons.
Firstly, it’s hard to make people laugh. It’s why stand-up comedians are such tortured souls.
Secondly, it’s easy to offend people (especially these days), and you don’t want to be remembered for that.
Thirdly, most people have heard all the jokes, so you’re wasting people’s time.
If you need to tell a joke, our advice would be to include the joke as part of a bigger idea.
Hey, I read today that this joke has been scientifically proven the funniest joke ever told. I thought it was okay. You tell me what you think:
Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He’s not breathing and his eyes are glazed, so his friend calls 911. “My friend is dead! What should I do?”
The operator replies, “Calm down, sir. I can help. First make sure he’s dead.” There’s a silence, then a loud bang. Back on the phone, the guy says, “Ok, now what?”
And finally, saying goodbye
The last impression you make can be more important than the first, so don’t overcomplicate the words you use to bid adieu.
“Bye,” “Nice to have met you” and “See you soon”work for us because they’re universal in English. Some people we know end every conversation with “Adios” or “A bientot.” We think it’s a bit much (unless you’re either Spanish or French, respectively ¾ then it’s okay).
One last note about real-world communication
Don’t feel like you’re going to follow these tips and become an expert orator. The key is to build up your comfort level so the next time you’re thrusted into the spotlight, you can shine a bit brighter.
This year marks our tenth year in business. Considering that two-thirds of all small businesses fail by year ten, that’s pretty good. Over the past decade, we’ve learned a lot about what people want from the senior copywriter and senior editor they hire. One of the more common comments we’ve received is, “I want to learn to write the way you do.”
And, of course, they would want that; it’d be much more cost effective if they didn’t have to come to us for every single thing they had to communicate.
To kick off our tenth year, we thought we’d share a few basic communication rules we make every junior, intermediate and senior copywriter follow when they write content. They’re not difficult; in fact, we’d argue that they’re rooted in common sense, but as many a wise person has said before, common sense is less common than you’d think.
So without further ado, how to write anything like a senior copywriter would:
Senior Copywriter Rule #1: Stay on point
A study by the Radicati Group out in Silicon Valley found that the average office worker receives 90 emails a day. That equals 12 emails an hour over a 7.5-hour workday, or one email every five minutes. It’s an onslaught. And it’s killing productivity.
The volume of emails probably won’t change anytime soon, but email length can and should change. Here’s how:
- Stick to the facts and the “need to knows.”
- Forget all the superfluous niceties. Start with something like “Hi…hope you’re well,” then get right into it.
- Resist big words you think make you sound smarter. They don’t.
Senior Copywriter Rule #2: Tell people things they don’t know
Time is still the most valuable asset people have, and the easiest way to waste it is with information that doesn’t help them.
We see this a lot in internal communications where a piece might start with something like “Last week, you were with us at the company retreat in Muskoka.” Your reader knows that. They were there. So instead, you might want to start with something they don’t know like, “Last week’s Muskoka retreat was our most well-attended off-site in company history.”
It’s a small nuance, but consider the information being conveyed and feeling being evoked in each case. The former is saying “we saw you there,” the latter is saying “you were part of something special.” Which one’s going to make the recipient feel better?
Senior Copywriter Rule #3: Write to people like they’re people
Moms. Millennials. CEOs. C-minus students. They have nothing in common except that they’re all human. They all put their pants on one leg at a time. And they don’t have the time or inclination to deal with industry-specific jargon they probably don’t know in the first place. Write to them like they’re people and they’ll be much more likely to read and resonate.
General rule: if your mom wouldn’t understand what you wrote, rephrase it until she could.
Senior Copywriter Rule #4: Keep it friendly
This might be the toughest one to follow in the business world, especially when our natural inclination is to err on the side of professionalism. But professionalism and warmth aren’t mutually exclusive.
Imagine sitting in a meeting with someone who was all business, didn’t smile and didn’t make you feel like they cared about anything other than getting the job done. Sure, you’ll leave with your action items and move-forward plans, but you probably won’t be terribly excited to get started.
Now imagine the same meeting with someone who welcomed you into the room, offered you a coffee and smiled the whole time, regardless of the subject matter. It won’t change the content being presented, but it will definitely change how you receive it and how motivated you are to act on it.
The same is true in writing. A little heart goes a long way.
Senior Copywriter Rule #5: Do your own spell check
Don’t trust your software’s spellcheck because it’s far from foolproof. It won’t catch the wrong your (you’re, your, yore), or “its” that should’ve been an “it’s.” Those are tasks for you, and they’re vital to keeping you from coming off careless.
- Read whatever you write aloud before you send it. You’ll spot things you’d probably skip over if you review it silently.
- If it’s an important file, have a friend or colleague review it first. An impartial second set of eyes will call out things you think make perfect sense but don’t.
- If you can, have a proofreader’s number on your speed dial (1.800.888.9257).
Want to practise? Start with your emails.
You write them every day. And if you’re like most people, you probably whip them off without much thought. So we’d encourage you to start putting them through the five simple filters listed above:
- Is it on point?
- Are you giving your readers new information?
- Will the average person understand it?
- Does it feel friendly?
- Did you check it for errors?
Get into the habit of vetting your writing for these four things and you’ll be well on your way to writing like a senior copywriter.
Three letters. THREE LETTERS! That sums up 2018’s best copywriting
You see it. You get it. And if you were counting on the Colonel that week, you can’t help but give them a pass for their fowl fail, because they made you laugh. So you’ll go back.
Here’s what we love about 2018’s best copywriting
The headline’s perfect. Lesser writers would’ve tried to punch up the apology. And anything other than “We’re sorry” would’ve seemed disingenuous. It’s a great example of a copywriter getting out of the way.
As for the body copy, it’s probably the best mea culpa we’ve seen. Nothing about the underlying message is positive. And there’s no excuse for what happened. They didn’t try to sweep it under the rug or reinforce the superiority of their eleven herbs and spices.
Managing boo boos with copywriting
Stuff happens. People make mistakes. The stars misalign. And when they do, the message you put out there is key to getting through it. Here are a few tips we’ve picked up over the years:
Like the KFC folks, don’t make excuses. Instead, admit your mistake and clearly explain what you’re going to do about it.
Don’t blame others
It’s easy to point the finger at a shipping partner or a materials supplier, but ultimately the buck stops with you. And even if it was someone else’s fault, they make mistakes too. And if you want to maintain a healthy relationship with the people who keep you afloat, it’s best not to throw them under the bus.
A little levity goes a long way in the face of a mistake. Like with KFC, it’s easy to forgive an error when it’s followed up by a smile. And resist the temptation to go all “ha-ha” with it. A simple curl of the lips will do.
But most importantly…be quick
Every minute that passes after a mistake is another minute for your customers to form negative thoughts about you, your brand and your place in their lives moving forward. That’s why, in cases like this, simple wins. Don’t overthink or try to be too clever. “We goofed. We’re sorry. Here’s our solution.” Done.
One final note about 2018’s best copywriting
As writers, we’re inspired by greatness like this KFC campaign. It makes us work harder, think better and strive to achieve more. In whatever profession you’re in, we highly recommend taking a few minutes to find the bar-setting achievements in your world, and thinking about what you can learn from them.
We get asked for writing advice all the time; from clients, students and the occasional family member. And while each request requires a different approach, some pieces of writing advice are universal.
Getting to know quips and brilliances from Oscar Wilde is one of those universals.
His command of language was so exacting (probably because he was proficient in English, French and German, Italian and Ancient Greek). His concepts were so eloquent. And his unique ability to make you shake your head in disbelief and say “YES!!” has, in our minds at least, yet to be matched.
This week marks the 118th anniversary of Oscar Wilde’s death. And so, to honour the wittiest man to every put pen to paper, and to provide those seeking writing advice with a bit of additional inspiration, here’s a quick list of our favourite Wildeisms.
“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”
Wilde has a knack for spinning a truth into a benefit. As you write, keep in mind that your audience is a real person with real motivations. They know the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. They want to know how this fact helps make their lives better.
“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”
With the changing of one letter, Wilde found a way to praise and insult at the same time. As you’re writing, look for wordplay opportunities like this. But use them sparingly. One of Wilde’s greatest literary gifts was his restraint (not so much in his personal life).
“I don’t want to go to heaven. None of my friends are there.”
Wilde was a master at bringing levity to tough subjects. This was one of his greatest strengths and can be a great strength when you’re tasked with a serious topic. Remember that your reader, in addition to being a doctor or a banker or mourner, is also a person who needs a bit of levity to break up the monotony.
“A good friend stabs you in the front.”
Understanding the basics of human experience was a skill of Wilde’s, and should be a skill of any writer. As you’re writing, try to rise up above the subject matter and look at the truth surrounding it. You’ll find something poignant to say.
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”
This might be the best writing advice we can give. Always be ready to write your ideas down. You never know when you’re going to have them and you never want to lose a good one.
But Oscar Wilde’s best words may have been his last: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.”
A few years ago, we were bouncing around the idea of replacing “Choose Your Words Wisely.” In retrospect, it was a silly exercise because we have a great tagline. But one alternative we quite liked was “Well said. Well read.”
It was objectively good: catchy, well-balanced, thought-provoking. We knew it (or an iteration of it) would find a home somewhere.
We’re pleased to report that it did. And here’s how it happened.
Re:worded fans: Meet KB4 Communications
A little over a year ago, we did an interview with Rick Kotick. At the time, he was Head of Competitive Intelligence at RBC. He’s moved up in the world and is now VP of Intelligence. But more importantly, he and Leslie Baker (a marketing director at the same bank) started a side hustle to improve the way people in the corporate world speak and write to each other.
Both Rick and Leslie are expert communicators. And in their respective roles, they noticed a problem: universities were spitting out brilliant analytical minds, but not offering the soft skills training to effectively share their thoughts. As a result, messages and directives are getting lost, people are getting frustrated, deadlines are being missed and business is suffering.
The KB4 hypothesis is pretty simple: if people were clearer and more intentional in their communication, everyone’s productivity would increase. So they started a company to offer that training.
And they needed a great tagline for their new venture. So they came to us.
KB4’s tagline had to kill it.
They’re a professional communication company in the business of promoting clarity and purposefulness. We knew this had to come through in their tagline. And we knew the tagline had to be aspirational.
Their target customer is someone who either wants to be a better communicator themselves or needs their people to be better communicators. KB4 had to demonstrate through their great tagline that they understood exactly what their audience wanted.
So we started tossing ideas around. Some were better than others, but we weren’t getting anywhere good. That’s par for the course in tagline development, though. Think about it: a tagline has to sum up a company’s mission, ethos and promise in five words. You’re not going to hit eureka right away. You have to get the bad ideas on paper and out of the way so you can get to the gold.
We went through a fair amount of bad, and just before we decided to call it a night, we remembered “Well said. Well read.” It wasn’t exactly right, but it felt like a strong jumping-off point.
We immediately gave the lads a call and shared the idea with them. At first blush, they loved it, but they agreed that it wasn’t quite there. We both decided to sleep on it and workshop it further in the AM.
We woke up the next morning to an email from Rick. All it had was a subject line:
“Be Heard. Be Read.”
Clear? Yup. Aspirational? Yup. Overpromising? Nope.
“Be Heard. Be Read” is exactly what Rick and Leslie’s customers want, and exactly what Rick and Leslie help their customers achieve. And it’s only four words.
We loved it when we saw it. We still love it. And we love getting updates from the KB4 crew on their LinkedIn page. They just ran their first series of workshops to rave reviews. If they asked us to guest-host a session on snappy writing that gets co-workers’ attention, we’d be happy to do it. Hint, hint.
As you think about your next great tagline…
Think of it like it’s the first thing people are going to know about your business. It’s your ice-breaker, your mood-setter, your opening statement. If you get it right, people will want to know more about you. And then you can sell them on whatever you want.
5 elements of a great tagline:
- Phonetic balance: Easy to say; rolls off the tongue.
- Less than five words: Anything more is a statement, not a line.
- Future-pointed: Describe the ideal and show that you believe it’s possible.
- Simple language: Everyone should get it.
- Positivity: Make people feel good about you.
P.S.: It appears The Globe and Mail’s picking up what we’re throwing, as their newest tagline is “Well written. Well Read.”
Content marketing, as an industry, is obsessed with best practices to ensure effective content, not enjoyable content:
– This is how many keywords you need
– This is the keyword frequency you should be aiming for
– This is the time of day you should post
– This is the blah b-blah b-blah
Sometimes we think the complexity of content marketing rules exist solely as a way for content marketers to generate more content. You’ll find a million pieces of content spewing out there about what you should be doing, when you should be doing it and how sorry you’ll be if you don’t.
But here’s the little secret they don’t tell you in these data-driven blog posts: if people stop reading it after the first line because it’s boring or useless or not at all what the reader had in mind from the description when he or she clicked the link to get to it, then following all those rules is a waste of your time.
And so, above all else, content has to be enjoyable. But what does that even mean when everyone’s definition of “enjoyable” is so different?
We think it means three things:
Enjoyable content solves a problem
It doesn’t matter what the problem is or how trivial it may be. And “problem” doesn’t have to be a negative thing either. A problem could be “How do I get better at Scrabble?” or “How to make a sandwich that won’t get soggy?” (Ed. note: use the cheese or meat as a barrier between the bread and wet ingredients like tomatoes or pickles).
When readers can come away from a piece of content having learned something they can actually use (which you’ll no doubt do next time you make yourself a sandwich), most find that enjoyable. Content like that is helpful, and everybody likes a bit of help ¾ even if they say they don’t.
Enjoyable content is friendly
Yes, there’s something to be said about professionalism. You’re not going to pepper your piece with OMGs. But regardless of the subject matter, it shouldn’t be stuffy either. Remember, even PhDs put their pants on one leg at a time. They’re people, not boring, soulless robots. Don’t write to that.
Write to the person on the 5:30 train home, not the 8:30 train in. That means short sentences with small words that everyone gets. It means getting to the point quickly and not waxing poetically about yourself. It means making the reader feel good by showing them a future state with your product or service as opposed to making the reader feel crappy by showing them a future state without your product or service.
Enjoyable content is credible
It’s hard to enjoy what you don’t believe so your content should be giving readers reasons to buy in. If it’s an opinion piece, the opinions should be backed up by sourced facts. If it’s a fluff piece, the topic should be well-researched so it adds value to the reader. And if it’s supposed to be a funny piece, then make sure it’s funny. Not much worse than trying for a laugh and coming up short.
And why do you need enjoyable content?
For the same reason movie theatres need enjoyable movies, sports teams need enjoyable players and companies need enjoyable people: it’s much easier to get buy-in when everyone’s smiling.
In 2001, researchers studied how background music affected the quality of people’s writing. The findings showed that “background music significantly disrupted writing fluency” — a fairly cut-and-dry case for writing in silence.
Unless you’re one of those people who finds silence louder than noise. Or you’re the kind of person who feeds off secondary sensory stimulation (creativity in one area is heightened by exposure to creativity in another). In fact, many non-professionals forced into copywriting or copyediting find secondary sensory stimulation to be helpful in tackling the task at hand and feeling good about the results.
“I tend to write and edit faster and better when I’m listening to music,” says Kelly Fischstein, a photographer in Toronto. “Responding to clients. Putting quotes together. Looking over my kid’s homework. It’s all easier with tunes.”
Our informal poll shook out around 50/50. And interestingly, among the “yay for noise” group, almost all genres were represented, including death metal (yes, death metal).
Our playlist doesn’t rock that hard. In fact, our playlist doesn’t “rock hard” at all. As copywriters and copyeditors, the sound can’t define the environment because that’s what the work does. Instead, it has to be part of the environment. Hard rock’s tempo, riffs, chords and lyrics define an environment. Great for after work. Not so good during (this assertion is supported by a 2013 study similar to the one mentioned above).
Be better at copywriting and copyediting with this playlist
It’s mellifluous but inspiring. It keeps you awake without distracting you. The lyrics are powerful enough to spark thoughts, but repetitive enough to fade into the background. And while there’s definite variety, the Beats Per Minute (BPMs) are fairly consistent throughout so you’re never jarred out of rhythm.
Ok, enough. On to the music.
Track #1: Mad About You — Hooverphonic
Violins, a subtle drum beat and the angelic voice of Geike Arnaert is a great way to start the job. Not too hard, not too soft and light on bass. You’re not quite feeling the work in your soul yet. No sense wasting heart-pounding beats before you’re ready.
Track #2: Kiss Me — Sixpence None The Richer
Ok, you’re getting into the groove a bit. Positivity is key. And this boppy poppy track is perfect for that, especially with Leigh Nash’s fun Nashville-style vocals. Little known fact about the band: they’re primarily a Christian Rock group.
Track #3: Perpetual Dawn — The Orb
You’re probably zoned in now, to the point where a bomb could go off beside you and you wouldn’t notice. So you want a repetitive track that won’t distract you with its lyrics or its music, but that’ll maintain the mood. This is it. With a bit of ragga, with elements of trip-hop, you’ll zone out by zoning in. And when you’re done your work, check out more from The Orb — they’re a ’90’s must.
Track #4: Hello — Ice Cube
Warning: this is definitely an NSFW track, but by this time, you’ve probably taken a chunk out of the first part of your job and you’re looking for some verbal inspiration to kick up your efforts. This track has it in spades.
Track #5: Sunshine Superman — Donovan
Ideas are floating around your mind and on the page, and you want to concentrate on them. This track won’t stand in your way. It’s simple but interesting. The lyrics are basic. And the beat is repetitive enough to not throw you off kilter. Of note: this is an example of a track that has no traditional chorus.
Track #6: What Is Life — George Harrison
You’ve no doubt heard this song before, and so you’re less inclined to be distracted by it or want to listen intently. But it’s arranged to be motivating. We find it gets our fingers moving and our minds racing. Actually, most of George Harrison’s Beatles and post-Beatles work does that for us.
Track #7: Somebody That I Used To Know — Gotye
Unless you were living under a rock five or six years ago, you know this song. And that’s a good thing because you can probably recite the words without thinking. This is a good thing. And the lyrics oscillate between alto and soprano to keep your ears on their toes.
Track #8: Pump Up The Volume — M/A/R/R/S
You’re feeling it big time now. And you’ll feel it more with this in the background. What’s cool about this track is how the beat never changes, but the arrangement changes every 20 seconds or so. So while the cognitive part of your brain will notice, the functional part of your brain is unaffected. It’s a 6:29 song, and you’ll be amazed how much you get done in such a short time.
Track #9: Reflektor — Arcade Fire
Hello CanCon! This is a straight-up pump-you-up track to bring home phase two of your job. You’ll find yourself bopping along. And being as zoned in as you are, you probably won’t notice the David Bowie cameo at 4:42. But how cool that Bowie agreed to back up the track.
Track #10: The Goonies “R” Good Enough — Cyndi Lauper
We’re back to boppy poppy to get you back to pounding away at those keys. And you get to think about one of the greatest ’80s movies for a ten-second break.
Track #11: Next To Me — Emeli Sande
A bit more intense than the previous track, but still repetitive enough to not throw you off your train of thought. Also, the lyrics are uplifting, motivating and make you believe you can do anything. Which you can!
Track #12: Hopeless Wanderer — Mumford and Sons
We saved the best for last. This is your big finish, and perfect for looking over what you’ve done. You’re feeling great about your work. And about yourself. As you should.
So there you have it: our copywriting and copyediting playlist. You probably have your own. And we’d love to give it a whirl. If you have a playlist, share it with us on Facebook or LinkedIn. And happy working.
P.S.: Here are links to all the songs on our copywriting and copyediting playlist:
Smart businesses seek out the services of a copy editor because everyone in a company can use a second set of eyes.
Yes, you want to avoid embarrassing mistakes, but that’s more the job of a proofreader (we do that too, by the way). A copy editor will make sure you’re conveying what you think you’re conveying, and that you’re doing it in the best way possible.
The relationship between a creator and a copy editor is an interesting one. As the creator (that is, the writer of the piece in question, be it a report, a pitch, a website, an email or a tweet), you should expect the copy editor to:
- understand you, how you speak and (more importantly) how you don’t.
- understand your subject matter and your message.
- understand your audience and the kind of language that would resonate with them.
But also important is the copy editor’s understanding of how you like to work.
We talked about the objective basics of feedback in a previous post, but we didn’t touch on the subjective aspect of it, which we deem as the fit.
When you’re looking for a copy editor that fits your organization, it’s important to consider their feedback style, their adherence to the rules and if you genuinely like working with them.
Let’s look at all three in more depth.
A copy editor’s tone
As we built our team of copy editors, we paid close attention to tone. And tone, according to this excellent piece from Psychology today, can convey more than the content itself.
For example, one of our editors has zero flower to her comments. When you read her notes (if she bothers to add notes at all), they’re almost robotic. And the clients she works with appreciate this lack of candour. They’re not interested in learning how to improve or in even considering the extra effort required. They want their copy fixed. No more, no less.
Another editor we have is exactly the opposite. You smile when you read her notes. You feel like you’re being helped versus being corrected. And you come away learning something new about being a better communicator every time.
Neither approach is right or wrong. And neither implies that the copy editor doesn’t care. Both our “robotic” and our “conversational” copy editors are militant about effective communication — they simply have different ways of expressing it.
A copy editor’s adherence to convention
We have an internal style that we’ve built over 10 years and continue to build. Some of our copy editors follow it like the bible. In their eyes, there’s never a reason to break the conventions. This isn’t to say that the client has to accept all the changes and recommendations, but our “stickler” editors don’t feel they’d be doing their jobs properly if they didn’t call out these broken rules. The clients they work with appreciate this exhaustiveness because they see quality writing as writing following the rules.
Other clients prefer a copy editor who knows the rules and has it in them to break said rules in the interests of impact. To these editors, words like “ain’t” are fine as long as the context and the type of client they’re working with warrants such words.
A copy editor’s personality
This is probably the most critical aspect. Because the more content you produce, the more interaction you’ll have with them.
We encourage you to take the time to find a good fit for you and your company. And, of course, we encourage you to consider us. We’re obviously great copy editors, and we’re good people too.
We build revision cycles into our copywriting quotes because we expect client feedback. We like to think we provide our clients with the best ways to phrase their messages, but they’re certainly not the only ways. And because our clients (a) know better than we do what they want and (b) know their business better than we do until we’ve been working with them long enough, their feedback is tremendously valuable and almost always makes the work better.
Notice how we said almost always.
Sometimes, client feedback can be the opposite of helpful: confusing, demoralizing, rude, disorganized and unthoughtful. You can’t do anything with this kind of feedback other than address it, give the client what they want and move on.
But this blog isn’t about bad feedback. It’s about great feedback and what makes it so.
The five qualities of great feedback
We’ve been doing this for a long time. We’ve written a ton of V1s and gotten feedback on just about all of them. This is what we look for.
It’s okay to not like something. Seriously. This is a subjective business. But we have to know why you don’t like it. Too pithy? Too scientific or conversational or funny or goofy or long? If we know your specific objections, we can address them. Context is everything.
If you have an idea about what you want to see, share it! We’re not mind-readers. It can be a link to something you like. It can be something you write. Tell us where you’re head’s at and we’ll join you there.
It’s important to read your feedback over before you send it through. Do you understand what you’re saying? If you don’t, how likely is it that we will? Our advice in this area is to stay basic. “I’m not feeling this paragraph. It’s too long and I think the reader’s going to get lost. Consider shortening by half and leading with the value prop instead of the example.” Perfect.
Years ago, we heard a story of a senior copywriter who, upon getting a change request from an account manager with an outrageously short window to complete it, turned around and said, “You know, we’re not baking cookies here!” And it’s true. Feedback needs to be digested and considered. And it requires thought to shift from what we thought was solid to what you think is more solid. If you want it done right, give us the time to do it right. This isn’t to say we need a week, but more than 45 minutes would be nice.
Never be afraid to give feedback, and never be afraid to give it to us straight. We’re all big boys and girls — we can take it. And we won’t take it personally because good creative professionals know it’s always about the work.
A last word about giving good feedback
Writing is an iterative process. This can get frustrating, but stick with the process because it’s effective. The best work results from a healthy back and forth between us and you. Sometimes we’ll do a few versions only to decide that what we showed you first was the best option. That’s okay because it’s all about discovery and comparison. The most important thing to remember is that we’re on the same side. We both want the work to be the best it can be, and we both want to be proud of it. And with a commitment to working together, it will be.
As copywriters, we immerse ourselves in our clients’ businesses. We get to know everything about them because it’s our job to essentially become them. We assume their voice, their tone and manner, and their personality. Their aspirations become our aspirations. Their promises become our promises. And their customers become our customers.
We essentially lose ourselves in them. It’s part of the job, and it’s a fun part of the job.
But getting to that point is a massive challenge. It takes iteration after iteration, feedback loop after feedback loop. It takes brainstorming sessions, working sessions, marked-up copy decks, more sticky notes than we can count, and a lot (a la-hawt) of late nights trying to crack the code, nail the voice and make the arguments our clients need us to make for them.
And it’s made all the more difficult by the fact that they taunt us.
Eyes Wide Open
Years ago, we were working on a copywriting project for Nissan. It was a beast of a project: Eighteen 25-page brochures for 18 different models. The volume alone was a challenge, but it was exacerbated by the fact that much of the information was the same but had to be served up differently in each piece.
Imagine having to describe the functionality and reasoning for Anti-Lock Breaking Systems 18 ways:
– Anti-Lock Breaking Systems (ABS) prevents skidding in wintery conditions by making sure the wheels keep turning and maintain a tractive contact with the road.
– Anti-Lock Breaking System (ABS) technology is what will keep your car from skidding off an icy road by making sure your wheels continue to turn and your tires continue to grip.
That’s two. Now do sixteen more. And while you’re at it, do 18 versions for child-lock windows, seatbelts, air conditioning, seat-warmers, USB power outlets, a V4 engine, every other standard feature Nissans come with and all available Nissan upgrades.
As you can imagine, it was hell on earth. And here’s where the taunting came in: we saw Nissans on every street corner.
Haunted and taunted at the same time
It wasn’t that there were more of them on the road, and it certainly wasn’t because our work boosted sales by 4 million percent (if it had this would be a very different blog).
It was because we started noticing them.
We saw Nissans on the street and in movies where we probably never would have before. We saw Nissan TV ads everywhere (FYI: we’re big NFL fans and Nissan is an NFL sponsor in Canada, so every commercial break was Nissan).
And every time we saw one, it was like our client was mocking us. We couldn’t escape the stress of writing 65,000 words. And every sighting reminded us how far we were from becoming Nissan.
Then we started dreaming about Nissans. We weren’t just falling. We were falling in a Maxima. We weren’t just sitting on the edge of a gorgeous river next to grazing unicorns and dancing leprechauns. We were sitting in a convertible Z. And when our dreams took us to far-off lands, they took us there in a Pathfinder.
It obviously wasn’t intentional (or it was and it’s to this day the most highly coordinated terror campaign of all time). But intentionality doesn’t mean anything when you’re being constantly reminded of your failure.
According to psychologist Sherri Klein, this is common across industries.
Ms. Klein has observed a similar phenomenon in her clients, primarily doctors. “I had one client who spent a year working on a drug for people with Down’s Syndrome. He said he had never noticed how many people with Down’s Syndrome are out and about all the time until he started that project. He said he had to have seen two or three a day. He’d never noticed before.”
“The subconscious’ ability to activate the conscious mind is one of its greatest powers,” says Ms. Klein. “It can show us what it wants us to see. This isn’t to say that we hallucinate or anything, only that we become hyper aware in the real world of what’s taking up large parts of our minds.”
But the Copywriter’s Tides Always Turn
We eventually cracked the Nissan file, delivered a winning campaign and moved on to the next job. It would’ve been great to see Nissan after Nissan post-campaign. A metaphorical pat on the back.
But we had started another project for a flower shop. So all we saw were men carrying flowers. Again, more than you’d think.
Breaking the Curse: Is it possible?
Short answer. No. As Ms. Klein inferred, our minds are hard-wired to do this.
The only real solution is to achieve Nirvana faster. We have it today with a major shipping company. We see their trucks everywhere and we seem to be seeing more of them. We’re happy to take full credit for growing their business to the point where their logo’s on every corner. But we know it’s just the curse — even if it doesn’t feel like one this time around.