New portfolio, New blog routine.

Posted: 13th Aug 2015

It has been a while...

Yep, it has indeed. There's no excuse other than the fact that I've been busy/a little lazy but with a new portfolio comes a new blog routine.

I'll be filling this very Distil blog with news, tips and everything in between but I'll also be creating a few posts a month on Medium. These posts will centre on a few grittier subjects such as content strategy and the creative industries in general. My first one will be published at the end of the month so keep your eyes peeled.

So I launched my new portfolio this week and it wasn't as easy as I thought to pick projects to feature. In the end I selected a mish mash of my favourites plus the briefs that challenged and delighted me. In the coming weeks I'll be putting together a few case studies for some of the projects that I just couldn't fit in, the first of which will be my project with Double Double

Well, that's it for now. Remember to follow me on Twitter (@distilco) for all manner of news and wordy stuffs.

Who is to blame for crap content?

Posted: 18th Aug 2015

Who is to blame for crap content? A blow-by-blow blame list.

In short, everyone.

As a copywriter, I’m not exempt from this blame list (you’ll see I’m/we are right in at #3) and quite rightly so. You see, there’s a tonne of really rubbish content out there and it just keeps on coming. It doesn’t surprise me that there’s so much poor quality stuff making the rounds; it baffles me that people are willing to hang their business hopes on the production of gumf. And even more shocking is that ‘professionals’ are not stepping up to the plate and educating the misled among us.

This isn’t a shaming list, it’s a rundown of the ways that we’ve all been conditioned to treat the production and championing of good content. More than just the Who, this is about the How - what we all do to hurt the creation and existence of healthy words, images, audio and beyond.

So, here we go.

Culprit #1 - Agencies.

A client emails you and wants you to create a website, marketing campaign, whatever, for them. What’s on your task list? Brief befriending, summoning of suitable talents (designers etc), meeting making, research undergoing, the list goes on. But is content management on there anywhere? I know budgets are tight and timelines even tighter but this really is the place where a better content philosophy can be realised.

Under one roof you have a graduating tier of professionals who can wholly embrace both the creative and practical needs of content. And more than just embracing, they can literally make space for prioritising content needs.

Project managers - These guys can make sure that content is secured as a deliverable, as well as planting the seed that review and agility is essential to content. Content goals and messages can change and be realised as the design process moves forward so these managers can make sure ample wiggle room is afforded to the creation/re-creation of effective content.

Budget makers - Factor in content management and strategy. It goes beyond a copywriter fee, although that is a great start. Great content requires time - time to research, plan, create and most importantly review and adapt. If you don’t budget any cash for content makers, you don’t place any value on content itself.

Strategists - Make content a long-term deliverable, not just a project-to-project ‘perhaps’ consideration. Argue a case for implementing a content care program for your clients. This is simply about making sure that content is periodically reviewed and updated to ensure its effectiveness. Make content a consistent concern, applying a strategy of sorts to each and every project.

The whole ‘content first’ approach to design and development is making waves and is generally championed by many agencies out there. But as with all techniques and approaches, it has become some what buzzwordy and half-heartedly accepted. It takes actual effort and reshuffling to embed a ‘content first’ strategy into your way of working but the benefits are crazy good.

Culprit #2 - Designers / developers and such.

The relationship between designers and copywriters isn’t particularly famed. But by the same standards, it isn’t a doomed one either. There’s tonnes of great designers that know they can’t create without a content consideration but we can always do with more allies.

These folks are the real game changers, the people that can fundamentally change the role content plays in everything from UX to visual branding. Designers, demand a content focus on your projects. It’s obviously tough if you’re part of a bigger (copywriter-less) team but you don’t need a writer on hand. Ask the right Qs, questions that demand that those in charge have a real understanding of the principals of messaging, tone, audience needs etc - all the things that matter to content.

Here’s a few tips for weaving some content considerations into your design process;

Understand that UI is not the same as copywriting - UI is a giant step forward in terms of putting content first but it doesn’t take into account the art of copywriting. UI is for all content, from video to images, whereby copywriting is the wordy wizardry that’s all about tone, style and all that jazz. These things are the cornerstone of consistent, effective content. If you see that the content for your project is being created by a client, or even by your fellow agency team members, ask why a copywriter isn’t onboard.

Master tone from the off - It goes without saying that the words and images should both be playing for the same team. However, it rarely does. This is about tone and style - both are content favourites. It’s not just about having the content before you design, which would be ideal, it’s also about having a solid understanding of the big picture messaging that influences everything that follows.

Put the audience first - Preparing killer content is all about understanding an audience. If you have content to play with, you have insight to design with. There’s no such thing as future proofing an experience but having a grasp of content can enable you to make decisions rooted in people and behaviour rather than fads and features.

Culprit #3 - Copywriters.

Yep, we need to take our share of the blame. I’m a copywriter and I hold my hands up. As much as I might not be wholly responsible for shoddy creation, we can all take a hit for not always fighting the good fight when it comes to educating clients on what good content is really all about. Over the years, here’s a few things I’ve learnt/done my best to champion more aggressively.

Be a content strategist as well as content writer - It’s always surprised me just how many copywriters don’t have a good grasp on content strategy as a discipline. To me, this goes hand-in-hand with what I do. I do my best to explain my process and approach to my clients before I write a single word of content in a bid to show they the importance of tone creation, audience research and feedback.

Can I talk to the client direct? - If you’re working freelance for an agency, as I do regularly, it’s common not to meet or talk to the client direct. Don’t settle for it. Some clients may prefer for their design agency to brief/deal with the creatives but at least ask if you can talk with the client direct. You learn a ridiculous amount from a client conversation so don’t always settle for the middleman insight.

Why stay on the sidelines? - I often don’t meet the agency team I’m emailing with about a project. The design can be a mystery until launch, in fact so can the designer! I try to avoid being sidelined and at least attempt to get an invite into the studio for an in-house session. It’s the nature of freelance to be a Skype ID rather than an actual person but if you’re close enough why not offer to work in-house and actually interact with the team while they work. Content can be the last hurdle before launch so get yourself, and your craft, in the door as soon as possible. As a copywriter you have to fight for collaboration.

Culprit #4 - The tech.

There’s a shortage of good content platforms. Whether we’re talking about collecting content, sharing content or even writing content, there’s ample room for improvement. I’d argue that content pros need to get onboard and spearhead the creation of such resources but we don’t all have the tech savvy required. I certainly don’t. Anyway, the lack of great systems and software has made the prioritisation of content a tougher task.

There is a few solid resources out there that save the content day, GatherContent being the cream of the crop, but we need more!

Culprit #5 - Clients.

They want content but do they really care about its quality? To many clients, content is just something that will fill their site. I’d argue it’s not completely their fault that they have such a surface understanding of the importance of content. Clients are not whimpering novices with no idea of what good content is but many don’t have a clue about what goes into creating and preserving quality. It’s our job as professionals to educate them.

It’s a mixture of tough love, artful bargaining and rock solid principles. Here’s a few things to translate to your clients;

Content has a lifespan - Nothing lasts forever. Content needs to be nurtured, reviewed and updated so be sure to explain this from the offset. Audiences, messages and styles change and no one wants to be left behind. Content is relevance so sell it on that concept.

Anyone can write but it doesn’t mean they should - I do believe that quality content can be created by all. That said, there needs to be a greater, big picture understanding of context to be effective. I wouldn’t encourage any client to self-pen all their content but make sure they are involved in the process. Be specific in the info you require from them, explain why you need this. Educate them on how to review content properly and direct them in giving quality feedback. Create a conversation and open culture around the topic of content and you’re doing the discipline a great service.

Don’t undercharge - As a copywriter, I generally stay pretty solid to my rate guns. What I do is valuable so I don’t need to bargain my rate. I know a lot of copywriters that have faced the “I could write it myself so why would I pay that?” line. Don’t work with these folks copywriters. Champion your craft and relevance, part of that means advocating your value.

A concluding thought…

Essentially, us the audience are the biggest culprits. We constantly create, read and share poor content as a habit. How many shitty ads, emails and posts do we read everyday? Loads. I’m not suggesting that you track down the copywriter of that annoying campaign and hurl abuse their way but we can all make the culture that surrounds content a little more pleasant and prominent.

Selling the importance of content to clients - Selected arguments.

Posted: 28th Aug 2015

Some clients get how important content is and some certainly don’t. As a copywriter I don’t necessarily blame clients for their lack of respect or appreciation for good content. If they’ve never had or seen stellar copy before how are they to know the good from the bad? Chances are if they’re after a site revamp their first port of call will be a designer. Great, your getting serious about your brand look, user journey etc, but what comes next in the list?

Many of my collaborators are freelance designers who are all for championing the need for great copy/content. I’ll maybe get an email saying ‘I’m working with a client at the mo and they really need some copy help, I’ll email you soon about it’. This is when I really start to feel for my designer buddies. They’ve got the unenvious task of trying to sell the importance of good copy to their client. In some cases this will be an easy conversation and I’ll get an email back with a date to meet. In most instances it’s been a battle my designer pals have not won.

Don’t fret friends, we’re all in the same boat. Many of the clients that come directly to me still need that final push towards deciding that they do indeed need a copywriter. And then comes the educating, the part where I really try to get them to understand their content needs and their bigger impact. This isn’t something every copywriter needs to do, and I’m not saying every client has no clue, but I see this as my way of offering long-term value.

Anyway, back to my long-struggling designer comrades. This post is for you, it’s for all that have to figure out how the heck they can convince their clients to get serious about content. What arguments and benefits can you present them with? Well, here’s a few.

#1 - Thinking content-first improves design.

This is an easy one for designers to get behind. If you have good content to work with you can design with real messages, real insight and a defined brand voice. It’s a simple argument that isn’t tough to translate. I’d recommend that you have a copywriter contact on call when presenting this case. Have a copy professional that you can direct your client to for a simple chat. I have no problem at all with taking over the reins here and directly selling the case for great content.

#2 - Increases collaboration.

This might not always be the greatest outcome as some creatives prefer to be briefed and left alone to do what they do best but it’s a great way of getting clients to really invest in their understanding of content. Give them milestones and tasks to meet regarding content. Ideally, a copywriter would produce 100% of the copy but I’m not against a client being involved to some degree. So much of copywriting isn’t about writing - it’s about gathering relevant info, insight, inspirations and defining content goals from the off. You need a client to do this.

If you’re the designer, why not send the client over to me while you do your thing? While you get to grips with the brief, I can be firing those key Qs over to the client and getting them accustomed to elements such as meaning, messages, tone, CTAs, all the things that you’ll be weaving into your design. All this ultimately means that you, the designer, have copy to work with early on. The best results come from content-first projects.

#3 - Plants valuable seeds.

Tone, style, messaging, competitors, audiences, context, actions - all are defined by the early stages of content production. These aspects all inform better design but they also make for a more mindful client. Content needs to nurtured and updated. It’s the only way to make it effective and relevant over time. The same goes for design so prepare your client for a long-term commitment and investment in their business. A copywriter can introduce the idea of content auditing and even become a go-to resource as their business defines itself and grows. It’s all about good practice.

#4 - Good content will save you money.

Yes you’ll have to fork out for a copywriter but you’ll get your mitts on well structured and engaging copy that will prioritise consistency. Why have a beautifully designed site if it’s going to be filled with self-penned word gumf? You only get one chance to make a first impression so make it count. The last thing any designer wants is a client coming back with constant changes that are shaped around poor content.

#5 - Copywriters do more than just write copy.

If you’re getting a bit of resistance around the idea of paying for copy let your client know that a copywriter does more than they think. Every client I work with gets access to the following;

a thorough goal/brand evaluation in the form of a brand questionnaire. This runs over their messages, goals, content needs, tone, style and everything in between. This is invaluable info to both me and the client.

a tone of voice guidelines doc. This is an overview of the style and tone of their brand and acts as an instruction manual for all their communications. It’s theirs to share with their team.

access to a content strategist. Any good copywriter needs to have a good grasp on content strategy to do their job properly. CS is all about putting big picture brand needs at the centre of everything you do.

There it is, a few key arguments that might just help you get your clients on-side. You won’t win every battle but you’ll be responsible for raising the good content bar a little higher.