What to do when you get bad copywriting?

You assigned a copywriter to craft your marketing content. Maybe it was an ad agency, maybe it was a freelancer you had come to know, like and trust. A week, two weeks go by. Close to the agreed deadline, just when you’re beginning to wonder whether the writer will deliver, the first draft lands into your inbox. You quickly scan through the text. “WTF!?” you exclaim. “This isn’t what I had in mind at all! This is just bad copywriting!”

I bet this is a familiar situation. What’s going on?

Let’s skip the obvious reasons. Perhaps your brief failed to say something that would have been important to the writer. Perhaps the writer didn’t read the brief carefully enough to realise he should have asked you for more details. Perhaps it was a rush job and some of the inherent traps just went off.

Rest assured, the writer really did try his best. All good writers do, and you wouldn’t have hired a writer who didn’t seem a good fit for the job in the first place, right?

Maybe it wasn’t bad copywriting. This is what might have happened.

1. You expected the writer to write for you

The key here is “what I had in mind”. It’s only natural that you have some kind of idea what the end result should be like. Then again, if the writer is worth his salt, he has done his best to understand what your audience wants and needs. This may be wildly different from what you thought should be said about your company.

Often, company marketers like to use their company jargon, and it’s not uncommon that there are certain phrases they have fallen deeply in love with. In particular, cliché adjectives and adverbs tend to abound; we’ve all read our share of world-class, superior, state-of-the-art and excellently. If the writer has dispensed with these, it may feel to you that it’s not your company talking. That could be good.

2. Everything needs a rewrite

A first draft is just that, a first draft. Every text requires editing. In the case of that appalling first draft, the writer’s intention most likely is to give you an idea of what is going to be said in which order and in what kind of tone of voice.

A fact check, inserting the real figures for proof and making sure the logic flows are the next steps. Iterate, don’t annihilate.

I hope it’s clear I’m not trying to defend sloppy work. But even the best of writers extremely seldom get it “right” at the first try. Marketing prose in this respect is exactly the same as fiction: editing is just as important as writing.

So next time you’re reading bad copywriting – a marketing piece that doesn’t fit your preconception – don’t let your first reaction fool you. Go deeper than the surface. Then give the writer constructive criticism instead of a vague “I don’t like this.”

Have you as a client been startled by what you get? Let’s discuss: shoot a comment!

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