Finding the right words

Friday 27 January 2017

Finding the right words can be hard

If you’ve ever created a piece of marketing communications for your business you’ll know that despite knowing your product or service inside out, working out what to say – and how to say it – can be hard.

Even the simplest of publications contain text. When it’s just a question of a few words a lot of us are tempted to think that it’s easy enough to write it ourselves, and won’t even think of involving a copywriter. But if you consider that the fewer words you have to play with, the harder each word must work, or if you need to communicate complex technical information, then you might find getting an expert on board is worthwhile.

For this blog post Geraldine of Every Word Counts kindly allowed me to ask her the sort of things that you might be asking yourself if you’re considering using a copywriter; namely how the process works, and whether it will be worth the added expense.

Why should I use a copywriter? I can write it myself, can’t I?

Well, yes, everyone can write. But not everyone’s a writer. There’s a subtle difference. In the same way that copywriters might be able to carry out some basic first aid or replace a fuse, they don’t have the appropriate qualifications or knowledge to carry out a medical procedure or fit a new light fitting. So they turn to the experts.

Think of copywriting as a craft. Copywriters become experienced in their craft in the same way that other craftsmen do – on the job, learning what works/what doesn’t work, ongoing training and so on.

How can copy help create my brand/make it stronger?

Regardless whether you’re just starting out, completely rebranding or simply repositioning yourself, good copy can reinforce your brand message. An experienced copywriter can add value by ensuring your tone of voice is used consistently across all your marketing materials (both on and offline). Also, as an outsider to your business, they can put themselves into your customers’ shoes – identifying their pain points and understanding how you can meet those needs (benefits) instead of just telling them what you sell (features).

How should I decide which copywriter to use?

Like any professional ‘tradesman’, the best way to find a copywriter is via word of mouth. It’s a partnership like any other business relationship, so it’s important to find someone you feel you can trust, who’s reliable and who you’re going to get on with. If they’re local to you, try to meet in person. (The copywriter will use the opportunity to check you out too!) If that’s not practical, then make sure you chat to them on the phone or via Skype.

Equally important is finding someone who’s up to the job. If all you need is a simple flyer with minimal copy, then it’s less of an issue. But if your products or services are quite specialist – or very technical – you may need to widen the net to find a copywriter with the relevant skills and experience. This can easily be done online, as most copywriters will have their own website.

But don’t automatically pick the cheapest quote: with copywriting you get what you pay for!

How does a copywriter fit into the client-designer relationship?

Sometimes the copywriter wins the work, and then brings in a designer to help deliver that part of the project. But usually it’s the other way around with designers outsourcing the content element. The designer might brief the copywriter based on the overall brief they’ve already received. Or the copywriter might get their brief direct from the client. It varies from job to job, and is often as much down to practicalities as personal preferences. Either way, the copywriter generally invoices the designer rather than the end client.

In an ideal world, when putting together a brochure (or other piece of printed literature) what should happen first – copywriting or designing?

In my experience, design usually kicks off the process. The designer produces a few concepts for the client to pick from. Once the concept’s been approved, they give the copywriter a mock-up with dummy text as placeholders. This provides a visual steer for the creative approach, an idea of how much copy is required, plus any other design elements such as pull-out boxes and calls to action that need populating with text. Once the draft copy has been edited and approved (usually in a Word doc) the designer can drop it into the design and make any necessary tweaks.

Geraldine Jones of Every Word Counts has been working as a freelance copywriter, editor and proofreader since 1996. She blends her love of language and attention to detail with marketing nous to help clients get the best out of their content – whatever the medium or the objective. Her pet grammar peeves are too numerous to list here, but the worst offenders are the Oxford comma and misuse of apostrophes.

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