We need to talk about copywriting feedback

Feedback, it doesn’t always have the most positive connotations, does it? Bad creative feedback can be anything from “Oh, that will just take 5 minutes” and “Well, personally I love it, but the end client isn’t so keen” to complete radio silence.

For me, that’s the worst (well, ok, the absolute worst is they hate it) but think about the phrase ‘no comment’ It’s non-committal yet completely loaded.

Eventually, of course, you want to get that all important sign-off but what if there is some lingering doubt or something that hadn’t been previously picked up?

Don’t be too prescriptive

If your client is a creative agency, then you’re at an advantage because communication is based on a mutual understanding of how one another’s job works, feedback can be collaborative. But, not every client is a creative one, and it doesn’t stop them having an opinion on how the job should be done.

Do tell me what you expect, but please don’t come back with a paragraph of copy and say “can you write it like this?” or worse tell me exactly how long it should take to write.

Instead, let’s go back to the why. What are we trying to achieve with this content? Tell me what you think is missing what might have worked in the past, and which elements don’t quite fit.

After all, if you hired a plumber, you probably wouldn’t tell them which tools to use, and how long they need to spend on fixing your problem — but you might help things along by explaining the history of previous works in your home at the start.

Actions speak louder than words

Yep, I did it. Shamelessly reclaimed a cliche to make a point. But what do I really mean? Put simply, I mean to identify the issue and provide an appropriate action.

You can waste a lot of time on both sides by talking about things in lengthy vague exchanges. Bullet points are great for eliminating this.

For example, written feedback like this:

Could we add a few more features and benefits to the web copy? Please add in some disclaimer copy for this offer We need to include a bio for the CEO, please can you update the existing one and mention recent awards and achievements Is easier to digest and respond to than:

“ I’m not quite sure if this is on-message, could you maybe try again with a different tone of voice.”

Make sure the right person is feeding back

One of the worst scenarios of a freelancer is feedback by committee. This tends to happen with large end clients and smaller companies who have little or no experience in working with creative freelancers. The biggest problem with disparate feedback is it can be conflicting. If there are several stakeholders then make sure one person is collating it and checking it aligns before passing it to the copywriter.

The barrier of assumed knowledge

Sounds obvious, I know, but unhelpful feedback can sometimes come from the mind of someone who knows exactly what they mean. The only problem is, not everyone else does. What do I mean by that? Well, sometimes miscommunication occurs because the client is holding a lot of ideas and technical insight in their mind. And their mind is a brilliant place, but it doesn’t land on the page without a little filtering. Now, any good copywriter does their research, but what if a process is so unique to a particular product or an update is in the works, and that information is only known by a chosen few?

Acronyms can be problematic. So many industries have them, but the trouble is, they’re not always consistent, so make sure you explain what it means and whether or not your use of it differs from others.

A good way of keeping track for clients and writers is to use (or update) a style guide. Smaller clients often don’t have one, but there are some fantastic examples to help create them and understand the importance of aligning design with copy. Not only does it help copywriters to explain important messages accurately, it makes for a consistent tone voice.

Consolidate the points and be clear

Often a bi-product of the feedback mentioned above comments arriving in dribs and drabs. Sometimes if changes involve technical clarification or knowledge from a specific person that can delay things, and it’s important that comments are aligned so that the copywriter can be clear about which direction to go in. This is why I’ll always build in time for feedback when I’m scheduling deliverables (unless it’s a super-fast turnaround).

Feedback is a two-way street, and I know I have to make sure my client has the time to process what I’m asking and iron out those internal discussions.

If you’re really at an impasse with your team, a copy call or Skype is worthwhile to try and resolve what the conflict is, but emails should be for specific points. Otherwise information gets lost in a huge message thread.

Feedback on the overall service, not just the content

I never realised the importance of leaving feedback for small businesses and retailers until I went freelance. Now I make a point of leaving feedback for the items I purchase. For me (and other small businesses/freelancers) testimonials are the stamp of approval that helps us to grow our service. Even if it’s suggestions for an easier workflow. It may be that you prefer to use your own CMS for reviews and deliverables, and not Word or Google Docs or you’re using a slack channel to cut back on email traffic.

But it’s more than that, especially if we’re building an ongoing/retainer relationship, then we need to be able to have honest reviews of what worked and what could be improved. Candour doesn’t have to be about finger-pointing and negativity, but it’s what helps us all to do our jobs better. If we’re prepared to fill in a survey or write an email, why not in personal exchanges too?

As much as copywriters love to be told their work is great, and the client is happy a little constructive feedback can go a long way.

Did you find my tips useful? Perhaps you have a different point of view, either way, I look forward to finding out.

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