When you're evaluating contractors to take care of several projects around your house, do you look for different people who each specialize in one aspect of construction? Or do you want someone who has a broad range of skills and knowledge and can take care of all your needs? It might depend on the project or the timeframe or the cost. But there are certainly pro's and con's for each path.
"Looks like everyone is back from vacation and ready to roll!" one of my clients commented to me recently. The week after the fourth of July! Vacations? We don't need no stinking vacations. Or at least that's the way it seems for many Americans. The conventional wisdom is that activity dies in the summertime as people take weeks or long weekends off away from the office.
Don't believe it. The statistics say something very different.
Meeting deadlines, delivering error-free copy, and being flexible are all things you should reasonably expect from your copywriter. But that's just the baseline of what you should be getting. Selecting just the right verb, using proper punctuation, and avoiding overused cliches are things every professional writer should be able to provide.
The true benefit of using a freelance copywriter goes beyond the proper mechanics of writing and extends into leveraging his or her experience and expertise. To provide you with a truly value-add service, your writer needs to draw from a broader pool of knowledge to create compelling copy that meets your particular needs.
Here are five areas in which your copywriter should possess a high level of skill and experience.
Crafting stimulating content that attracts prospects and drives action is important, but a crucial first step is gathering information. Source material is typically not simply handed out but must be developed from primary sources. Often the writer will have to spend time with subject matter experts to extract relevant information from their vast wealth of knowledge. These SME's are usually in high demand within their organizations and have limited availability, so the writer has to maximize the time allotted to the interview. That means carefully planning the questions, listening carefully to responses, and being able to pivot from the plan if new and interesting information comes up.
In my past experience as a working journalist, I've learned that not only do you need to be asking the right initial and follow up questions, but you must also establish credibility with the subject in order to achieve the best results.
When the copywriter doesn't have the benefit of mining an SME for input on a topic, he or she will have to conduct research from secondary sources. Google and other online resources makes that a much easier task than it used to be, but the amount of accessible information can sometimes be overwhelming, causing the "can't see the forest for the trees" syndrome. When doing research, a copywriter must focus on what pertinent information to include, when to pursue new angles that surface, and when to avoid being dragged into a black hole of distraction. It takes a special skill to be able to unearth the valuable nuggets of information from the huge mountain of available data.
When creating thought leadership content, it's important for a copywriter to understand the underlying strategy of the client. In some cases, this strategy may be inherently understood, but has never been fully articulated. A writer with experience in developing business strategies can be invaluable in helping to state the strategy clearly and succinctly. I just finished a project with a client who was creating a concept map for business planning and being able to share some ideas from my past business experience helped him sharpen the focus of the piece.
Sales and marketing
Many of the pieces your copywriter creates for you are thought leadership pieces - white papers, eBooks, articles, and blog posts. You likely also have a need for website copy, email blasts and landing pages, data sheets, and case studies - good, old fashioned selling. To make that transition and craft effective sales copy, your copywriter should have some working knowledge of the sales and marketing process.
For several years I was responsible for sales and marketing in a global manufacturing and logistics organization. Working with some outstanding sales and marketing executives taught me about the challenges of building a pipeline, nurturing leads, and closing deals. The experience has come in handy on several projects including helping to ghostwrite books on sales and marketing for two separate clients and polishing a sales presentation another client was giving to a major prospect.
Many copywriting pieces require a working knowledge of finance and financial terms. Your copywriter doesn't have to be a CPA or a financial analyst, but he or she must understand and be able to articulate the basics as it applies to your content. White papers, case studies, and blog posts often need to include a discussion of ROI and how the basic components of income statements and balance sheets affect it. If your business directly relates to finance, such knowledge is crucial. I just finished a corporate overview piece to be used in a presentation seeking a new round of investor financing. The experience from my days as an Executive VP for a venture capitalist-owned company helped me target the piece to what I know investors are looking for in such presentations.
You can't expect your copywriter to be an expert in every possible business discipline, but working with a writer with broad skills and experience in these important areas can provide you with a valued asset when it comes to collaborating on your content needs.
by Tom Condardo
George Bailey sat slumped over his keyboard, shaking his head in despair. "Who reads this stuff?" he mumbled as he worked on the copy for a client website. "What difference does any of it make? I'll always be just a lowly copywriter. I'd be better off covering high school football for the local paper."
"Of course it makes a difference, George," a voice suddenly called out. "Your clients love what you do. They're generating leads, finding new prospects, and converting sales. The content you provide is a big part of that."
Startled, George turned to see a shadowy figure sitting in the ergonomically designed side chair in the corner of his office.
"Who are you?" he stammered. "How did you get in here?"
"My name is Clarence," the figure answered. "In a former life I was in marketing. I was in charge of working with freelance writers. I'm here to help."
"Help how?" George replied, eyeing him warily. "And it doesn't matter anyway. I should never have started writing business content."
Clarence thought for a moment and then smiled.
"OK George, have it your way."
"You're going to find me another job?" George asked.
"No," Clarence replied. "I'm going to show you what the world would be like if you had never gone into this business."
George dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "You're crazy. Now get out of my office."
He turned back to his computer which suddenly flashed and displayed the spinning beach ball of death.
"What's going on?" George asked, sitting up straight in his chair.
"Oh, nothing," Clarence said with a twinkle in his eye.
George's screen then flashed to his Twitter home page. He noticed the first tweet from Acme Consulting, one of his bigger clients.
"Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you," it read. Followed by a second tweet which said: "I guess it wasn't meant to be."
"What's that all about?" George wondered aloud.
"Looks like they went out of business," Clarence replied.
"How is that possible?" George asked in disbelief. "They were landing clients left and right. They were looking to add staff to handle the workload."
Well it seems you weren't around to help them with that big content marketing campaign. You never wrote those eBooks and case studies that generated all those leads. They all went to the competition instead."
Facebook then popped up on George's screen. It was Sam Wainright's home page. The top entry read, "Killing it on Candy Crush. Being unemployed has some advantages."
"What???," George exclaimed. "Sam runs a huge manufacturing operation. He's a wealthy businessman. He doesn't have time for playing games online."
"He does now," Clarence answered. "He never read those white papers you wrote on the benefits of using the cloud for IT infrastructure. His costs kept rising and he never could figure out why. He couldn't compete in the global economy and went down the tubes."
"No, no," sobbed George. "Not Sam."
A Kickstarter page appeared on the screen. It was a request for contributions for Ernie the cab driver who was developing a hot new app that automatically scheduled your ride and ordered coffee from Starbucks which was ready for you when you were picked up.
"Ernie launched that app two years ago," George exclaimed. "I wrote a series of blog posts that helped it take off. He's retired and living on an island in the South Pacific."
"Nope," said Clarence. "Never happened. You weren't there to write those blogs. He's still trying to get it off the ground."
George turned and grabbed Clarence by the arms.
"Okay Clarence," George said. "I get it. I get it. Let me go back. I want to go back. I understand now."
Just then George's screen flashed to his email inbox. It was filled with new emails from several customers. The first thanked him for the email campaign he wrote that generated dozens of new leads. Another outlined how much business spiked after they released the new catalogue he wrote. A third told how a client closed a big deal thanks to an eBook he wrote for them. They emails just kept coming.
George turned to show Clarence, but he was all alone.
"Must have been a dream," he said quietly, rubbing his eyes.
He closed his inbox, went into his dropbox folder, and opened the file for the ghost feature article on data analytics he was writing.
"You know this isn't such a bad life after all," he thought as he began to type away. "In fact, it's kind of wonderful."
Anyone involved with SEO knows that chasing the latest search engine algorithms to improve results can be frustrating. Google changes its algorithm 500-600 times a year - sometimes making minor tweaks and other times doing major overhauls. While using keywords to optimize your content is still solid strategy, many experts feel the best way to rank high in search results is to produce engaging, compelling content written for people, not search engines. Ok, that sounds good. But the term gets thrown around a lot. What exactly IS "engaging, compelling content" and how do you create it?
Here are three suggestions.
1. Talk about your readers, not about you
Loquacious former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar who never met a microphone he didn't like once famously said, "Enough about me. Let's talk about me." Unfortunately, that's the attitude of many marketers and content creators who think website visitors are surfing through your site trying to find out about the great things your business is doing. Hint: they aren't necessarily impressed by your latest award, hire, or fancy new building. They really want to know how you're going to help them.
For example, take this blog post from Hayes Management Consulting. Instead of telling you what an effective job they do when consulting with health care organizations or how many engagements they've had, they provide a concise, "nuts and bolts" roadmap on four specific things to focus on when preparing for a new IT system implementation.
When you sit down to bang out some copy, picture your reader asking "what's in it for me?"
2. Answer a question your readers may have
Most people scramble through over-scheduled lives and aren't spending much time simply browsing around aimlessly. When they plug a term into a search engine, they're looking for information on specific questions. You can stand out by providing the answer. Most of my blog posts come from questions clients have asked me. For example, in multiple discussions, people wanted to know the difference between an eBook and a white paper. It's a great question and I answered it with this blog post.
I'm sure you remember back in school when the teacher would say,"The only stupid question is the one that isn't asked" or "You probably aren't the only one who wants to ask this question." It's the same thing with prospects and customers. If one of them asks you a question, chances are ten others are looking for the same answer. That's a perfect opportunity to create a blog post, eBook, or white paper.
3. Help your readers do their jobs
Everyone is reaching out for help in some area of their working life. Providing that assistance gives you a leg up on landing more business and keeping the customers you have. For instance, you might want to help people looking to produce content that gets read and drives more traffic to their site by showing them how to create compelling content. See what I did there? Or you may want to offer some tips on a process that can increase their productivity or enhance the quality of their work.
For example, I deal with many people responsible for producing content for their organizations. While creating content is the only thing I do, their plates are usually overflowing with many other responsibilities. That's why they call me when they need help with their writing needs. But as everyone knows, delegating tasks can sometimes create more work if not done properly. To help solve that problem for my clients, I wrote this blog post on nine specific steps to take to get the content you want out of a copywriter. This provides them with a checklist for an efficient process that will help lighten their workload, not add to it.
So what's the best way to create engaging, compelling content? It comes down to the basics: create content that's interesting and helpful and people will pay attention.
How are you tackling the challenge of creating compelling content?
There's a growing phenomenon in the content world called Brand Journalism. Some say it's the same as content marketing, but that's not exactly true. I would contend that Brand Journalism is a subset of content marketing. Where content marketing can consist of anything from blog posts, infographics, white papers, and ebooks, Brand Journalism strictly follows the traditional news/feature article format. One definition of Brand Journalism is "using the credibility and influence of news to tell a corporate story." It's based on the fundamentals of traditional journalism and good storytelling. It's content marketing because it informs rather than sells, it isn't focused on specific brands, and it's meant to highlight thought leadership.
Brand Journalism can be used in many ways. Some larger companies have set up their own microsites and treat them as separate news outlets focusing on industry and company news. Others place news articles in industry or business magazines. Even some longer form blogs from company executives are considered Brand Journalism.
Many businesses find they don't have the expertise on staff to handle this type of content so they're either hiring former journalists or outsourcing to writers with a journalism background. As a former newspaper reporter, I have a number of clients contracting with me to produce this type of content. The disciplines I learned in journalism school and honed as a working reporter come in handy when researching, interviewing, and composing these articles. The goal is the same as when you're on deadline at a newspaper: develop a compelling story and craft it so it's interesting to the reader.
Here are three reasons you should consider including Brand Journalism in your overall marketing plan.
1. You control the message
Instead of putting out a press release and hoping some news outlet publishes it or spins it into a bigger article, you control the content from the outset. You decide what's interesting to your target audience and then tailor the content for them. If you're publishing on your own site, you're not bound by space or editorial restrictions that may alter what you want to say. The piece still has to be well written and worthy of a reader's time, but now you're in charge.
2. You speak directly to your customers
Instead of an editor interpreting or filtering your message, you're able to reach out and touch your prospects and customers directly. This ensures that your views and opinions get delivered accurately and the way you intended them. It also allows you to provide a vehicle for direct responses so you can get valuable feedback, crucial in today's business climate.
3. You cut through the clutter
With marketing information reaching overload in today's "always-connected" digital world, people tend to tune out many marketing messages. Framing your content as informative, journalistically crafted articles helps you break through the fog of negative thinking that sometimes blocks marketing collateral. People no longer want to be sold; they want to be informed. Brand Journalism done correctly accomplishes that goal while helping you reach your target audience.
Brand Journalism won't replace traditional advertising or other commonly accepted content marketing vehicles. It just becomes another arrow in your marketing quiver and can be an effective way to promote your brand.
Have you begun to use Brand Journalism? How can this format fit into your marketing program?