Great copy starts and ends with you, assuming you’re the one who assigns copywriting and approves it. Your first job is to make it easy for the copywriter to come up with words that sell.
Your second job is to protect those words from interference, if you can. It’s easy if you’re the boss, but it can be tricky if you work with (or in) an ad agency because you might have two layers of bureaucracy to work around.
The first thing you have to decide is whether the copy is worth defending. If it isn’t, you need new copy.
Somebody or somebodies will ask questions and that’s fine because it’s their job – as long as they know what they’re talking about. Where it goes from there depends on people’s individual agendas, for example:
• Some people just want to say something, anything, in a meeting. Usually it’s dopey.
• Some people are equality-obsessed about race or sex or class and they want to make it clear that they believe the oppressed of the World should be represented in any and all communications. (I’ve seen this a lot over the last 20 years. Admirable as it may be, it has nothing to do with selling anything. The ethnic, male/female and class images and tone must reflect your target audience or its aspirations. David Ogilvy once had to contend with a British Tourism committee that wanted a campaign to focus on Britain’s depressed cities.)
• Some people have weird opinions about length of copy, crossheads, punctuation, grammar. You can anticipate this and have defenses handy. (Sample complaint I’ve heard 100 times: “This sentence has no verb.” Response: “Yes, sad but true.”)
• An amazing number of people making copy decisions actually believe they’re in the target audience, which is rarely true.
• Too many new bosses want to exert their authority and that’s a hopeless situation if they insist on silly changes. Suggest a do over, starting with a planning meeting.
• And a lot of control freaks will demand changes, throw hissy fits, etc. merely because they’re freaks. (I think this is fun but some folks might find it alarming. The easiest solution is to make the freaks laugh and, if that doesn’t work, wait them out, then write their issues out and go over them one by one. Yield gracefully on changes that don’t matter.)
I’ve been very lucky to work in great agencies with terrific clients. Over the years, though, I’ve seen some awful meddling with great copy and heard about a great many more meddling nightmares in seminars and workshops. There’s a ton of evidence that this is counterproductive . For instance, every single breakthrough campaign I’ve been involved with benefitted from copy that skated through with minimal tinkering.
The indispensable brief & how to use it.
This one tip might make your job much easier: Write a creative brief, circulate it to all involved and get them to sign off on it. This might result in changes to your brief, but that’s okay. There are two reasons for doing this: one is to let them think they’re part of the creative process, the other is to stop them from interfering with the copy later on. It can be as simple as saying “I don’t know about that change, Charlie, this copy is bang on with the brief we okayed,” and then whip out a printed copy of the brief.
There’s a pretty good summary of how to write a creative brief here: How to write a creative brief
I’d add a few things to the brief, especially in direct marketing, such as test results from past efforts, competitive samples and, in direct mail, the name and title of the person who will be signing the letter.
When you’re happy with the brief, review it with the copywriter. Answer all questions and fill in any blanks. There will be blanks.
It’s only human for people to feel the urge to tinker with copy.
That’s why you want to present copy to your colleagues in manuscript form on paper after taking away their pencils and pens. Ask them to read the copy straight through from top to bottom just as, you know, your prospects will eventually – you hope. It’d be even better if one of them would stand up and read it out loud. This can have an amazing effect because well-written copy resonates. To a copywriter, it sings. The person reading the copy should actually become enthusiastic and you’ll hear it.
Before you present the copy, you’ll have a little work.
Your copywriter has probably done four or five drafts. I do as many as 20, especially for direct mail. Before you read the final draft, take off your “you” hat and put on your target audience hat.
I’ve told this story before and it bears repeating. At a very big deal creative presentation in a million dollar boardroom, one of the client’s grand poobahs said “I wouldn’t respond to that,” and sat back with arms folded. Much great work was about to go down the drain unless somebody did something. For a long minute, nobody did. I thought I saw an amused glint in the guy’s eye, so I took a chance. “I’d be surprised if you would,” I said. “The target audience is female, over 45, household income around $50,000, with a high school education. You’re a guy, about 30 years old with a graduate degree and a household income ‘way over $50,000. Why would you respond to it?” It worked. He laughed and the creative went through untouched – and did very well, indeed.
Defend the copy but know what you’re talking about. Start by reading the creative brief once more before you read the copy yourself.
Key #1 is the brief. Key #2 is the perspective of the target audience. Key #3 is handling the critics calmly and professionally.