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Five Steps to getting the best efforts from a freelance writer

by Robin Seidner

Writer, Copy Diva

Whether you work at a creative agency or a company, chances are you will need to work with an outside writer at some point in your career.


Some reasons to hire a writer:

  • you have too many projects to handle them all in-house
  • you don't have any writers on staff
  • you need a specialist - a scriptwriter, a Web producer, an annual report writer, etc
  • your marketing materials seem stale and
  • you want a fresh approach

Whatever your reason, it helps to know how to work with a writer to get the best results.

  1. Bring'em in early. When possible, bring a writer in during the conceptual stage of the project - brochure, ad, web site, presentation. Making the writer part of the concept development team is to your advantage. You'll have all parts of the marketing team - the designers, the strategists, and the writers - working together to create a concept that works. All too often, the concept will be left to the design team, making it too visually oriented. Some of the most notable marketing campaigns were developed off of an initial written concept, not a visual one. The designers then have a verbal stage on which to address the concept.
  2. Don't edit by committee. If your company has to route copy and concept to everyone including the office manager, you're in trouble. The most targeted marcom efforts are handled by one or two people - that's it. Obviously, some companies require more people to see what you are doing for accuracy. If you have a regulatory requirement, send it through legal when it's in its final draft, don't send it through at each draft revision. That way, you only have to deal with correcting language in one version.

If you need to send it through engineering for technical accuracy (which you should do), make sure to tell them that you want comments on technical accuracy only. Otherwise, you will get their opinion of the copy, which may not be pertinent to your target market.

Rules for routing:

  1. Be specific! Grammar review or technical review? Let the reader know what you want from their comments.
  2. Make sure to resolve conflicting comments before you deliver the copy back to the writer for revisions. Don't make the writer resolve conflicts within the organization. Give them one edited document to work from.
  3. If someone asks to see the copy and they have no legitimate reason to, say NO. Everyone thinks they're a writer, and they will make changes to suit their tastes. Those tastes may have nothing to do with the objectives of the piece or be relevant to your target market.
  4. Trust the experts. Don't hire a writer if you're just going to end up writing the piece yourself. If you hire a writer for their expertise and then disagree with everything they write, you just wasted your money. Professional writers with good credentials understand their trade and know what works. Give your writer the information they need to do the job right for you: your product benefits, your target market, your unique selling point, you goal for the piece/campaign.
  5. Give concrete feedback. If you say to me, "I don't like it, but I'm not sure why," you give me nothing to work with. If you say, "I think this needs to be less technical, because our audience is Joe Beer Can," then I have something to work with. Vague comments frustrate writers. Be specific if you want to see changes made.
  6. For agencies only - allow and encourage direct client contact. Feedback delivered through a third party (read: account exec) will not be what the client said. It will be what the account exec filtered from the client. The whole writing process takes longer when interested parties can't communicate directly.

Most freelance writers (myself included) will act as part of the agency team - they won't try to steal your client. That kind of marketing is unethical and certainly won't endear them to you.

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