Getting the best from your copywriter

February 27, 2007 Here are 10 tips for getting the best from your copywriter when you produce brochures, newsletters, annual reports and other corporate communications materials.

1. Know your audience

Good writing speaks to the interests and concerns of the reader. That means you and your copywriter need a clear understanding of the audience: their age, gender, background and education, as well as their familiarity with the subject matter. Tailoring your message to the audience increases the likelihood that it will be read.

2. Define a message

Your writer needs to know what information she must convey, including the main ideas and supporting arguments, the copy length, and the action you want the reader to take. A precise, detailed brief will avoid confusion and help the writer deliver a superior product.

3. Review your house style

Prepare a style guide and share it with the writer. The guide will highlight unusual words and phrases, product and service names, industry buzzwords and the now-forbidden expression that your last chairman used at every opportunity.

4. Follow the format

Ads, newsletters, brochures and annual reports have distinctive styles and a different balance between readability and comprehensiveness. Resist the temptation to include every feature in your ad or omit important details in your annual report.

5. Understand how writers work

Writers earn a living by selling time, talent and experience. You’ll get more value by planning and preparing a solid first draft and refining each subsequent draft; less if you make endless rounds of minor changes or wholesale revisions late in the project.

6. Buy the right service

Good writers are not cheap, so use their talent where it will make a difference. For some projects, that means research or polishing copy that’s been produced in house. Others require a full-service approach.

7. Manage the politics

Corporate writing often suffers from consensus-driven compromises and managers who make random changes (usually to show that they are managing). To avoid these traps, agree on the audience and messages in advance and ask the writer to present his work. Sometimes, a brief explanation can prevent a damaging change.

8. Talk to your writer

Professional writers expect honest, constructive feedback because it is the basis for quality work. Don’t be afraid to use the writer’s position as an outsider to generate fresh ideas. But if you want an update on last year’s annual report, say so. There’s little point in requesting creativity you won’t use.

9. Educate yourself

Read your competitors’ materials, build a reference library, subscribe to well-written periodicals and ask your writer questions. Immersing yourself in quality writing makes it easier to spot problems and appreciate good work.

10. Proofread

On long projects, the production team will have seen the copy so often that they can no longer spot errors. Hiring a professional proofreader can prevent costly reprints. And don’t forget to review charts, tables and captions, where typos can undermine an otherwise strong document.