Why Good Copy Goes Bad

Copywriting can be a tough gig. When it works – it’s great. All is going well, you’re getting the desired results, confidence is high and all boxes are ticked. Hurrah!

Then you submit another piece of work that, for whatever reason, simply doesn’t hit the spot. Is it you? Did you wake up this morning a bad writer?

You believe that you’ve delivered a good, solid piece of work that fits the brief and yet, it’s not working as expected or you receive seemingly endless changes or a negative response from the client – is it your fault? Did you misjudge the brief? Does the copy work for the required communication channel/medium?

Should you jack it all in and take up knitting?

Writing vs copywriting

The answer to the question of why good copy goes bad is, unfortunately, not always a simple one.
There is a view that writing and copywriting are two different beasts. Indeed, authors, poets and great journalists are celebrated and revered in a way the humble copywriter simply is not – and rightly so. We all have our heroes.

The emotional connection a reader has with a favourite novel, poem or inspirational article is undoubtedly the holy grail of any writer. Readers want to be moved, they want great prose, they want their imagination to be ignited and to be taken on a cerebral journey with the author.

The art and beauty of the written word is an inspiration to us all. That said, the art of good copywriting is often underplayed.

To write effective copy you need to understand the requirements of each medium/channel. Writing for websites, blogs and social media is a different beast to writing articles, press releases, white papers and business materials.

The importance of preparation

Preparation is key. Good copywriters spend a great deal of time on due diligence. It starts with listening to the client and open two-way communication to fully absorb and clarify the brief. Then there’s the research and analysis of the subject matter and business to understand their objectives, brand, tone of voice and – this is the often the tricky part – the required approval process.

This is tricky as you often have to deal with a number of differing views and comments, which may pull you in different directions.

Resolving copy conflict

The key to resolving any issues that arise is to unpick the problem and get to the heart of the matter. If this is not your first rodeo as a copywriter, you know in your heart of hearts that you have put forward your best work and have many a happy client under your belt – we can rule out bad writing.

That out of the way, the burning questions are: What went wrong? And, most importantly, why?

Clients often favour the security of opting for a copywriter with experience in their industry. This is especially true in the financial services and technology arena, due in no small part, to the depth of knowledge required to hit the ground running.

This is a source of frustration for many a copywriter, as we often pride ourselves on being not only a quick study but also chameleons that can make a home wherever we lay our freelance hat.

We have a responsibility to fully understand the subject and brand to ensure our work is on point. We also need to get a grasp of a company’s tone of voice and house style.

That said, there’s always a balance between delivering on-brand copy without simply regurgitating old work with a face-lift and compromising your creativity. Ultimately, you were hired to bring something new to the table, the secret to success is understanding what exactly your client expects that to be.

Good brief or bad brief – that is the question

So, as always, we are back to the quality of the brief: Is there further clarification required? Is the content the actual problem? Have the desired objectives been met? Is the information in the copy accurate and clear? Does the copy work for the required communication channel/medium?

The most common problem is a breakdown in communication between writer and client. Ask the client to define where they feel the copy falls short. If they can provide constructive feedback – take it, change it and move on. Try not to get too precious unless you genuinely feel the changes impact the integrity or clarity of the work. Where you differ, drill down on the points and clearly articulate your reasoning.

This is where you might hear comments such as “I feel it is just missing that certain something” or “I can’t put my finger on it, but it needs work” and the infamous “can we make it punchier?”
Don’t be precious. Evaluate the problem and adapt your copy to achieve your mutual goals.

Copywriter or copy consultant?

We all have an opinion and this is where the copywriter needs to put on their copy consultant hat. The client is paying for your knowledge and expertise – the key to resolution comes from understanding that the client knows and cares about their business too.

You both have the same goal – great copy. Talk it through, find the compromise.

This is another reason I feel the role of a copywriter is underplayed. The job is not just about soaking up information and putting it on a page, you have to convey meaning, connect, influence and persuade, both on and off the page. Not easy skills.

Think like the reader

Good copywriters, like good writers, have the ability to delve into the world other people inhabit. You have to move away from your personal views and preferences and think like your target audience. Empathize with the feelings and beliefs of your readers, motivate them and sell.

To do that you need to try on different lives, dig deep and connect.

Yes, you may have put blood, sweat and tears into your work, but if the copy doesn’t do the job, or meet the client’s needs – you have to let it go. Identify the problem and correct it.

Learn from your mistakes, bounce back and keep writing.

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About Gemma Wright

I'm Gemma Wright, co-owner of ProCopyTips and a freelance PR consultant and copywriter. Having worked as a PR Manager for large financial services companies in the UK, I now focus on helping small and growing businesses to thrive through the power of effective communications.

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