Isn't it shocking how quickly marketing departments are changing? Talk about "disruption!"
Overnight it seems, new roles are born, thanks to technological leaps. At the same time, long-standing roles are going the way of the Dodo bird.
Nowhere is the clash of "old" vs. "new" more obvious than with copywriters.
Call them what you want -- literally. Today, there are perhaps a dozen job titles in the marketing department lexicon that include copywriting as a primary duty (e.g., content creator, communication specialist, demand gen lead).
And that's precisely the rub...
The vanishing copywriter
It's a recipe for burnout, yes, but also... inferior copy. More about that in a minute.
The good news is that supplementing your marketing department with a freelance copywriter has never been easier. Nor is the practice taboo. Sounds funny now, but it wasn't that long ago that hiring a non-employee for creative work just wasn't done. The thought was that a freelance copywriter couldn't truly understand a company without a lengthy, total-immersion experience.
Of course it's possible to understand -- to "get" -- a company or product from a distance. I should know. I've spotted structural problems in my client's marketing copy simply because of that distance! As an outsider, it's generally easier for me to catch ingrained blind spots that (even savvy) managers miss.
"But we have an in-house team!"
The question you're probably asking, naturally, is whether you can justify paying for a project that could... should?... be handled in-house.
Five points to consider:
First, does the person you're assigning a copywriting project to have other duties? If so, are those duties more valuable than writing copy? If they are, and you pay them accordingly, then it makes no sense to take them off their primary duties for lesser work.
Second, unless the person you're assigning to write copy does it regularly, everything -- the research, organizing, writing, editing -- will take longer. Much longer! The reason for that is copywriters get rusty... fairly quickly. Inactivity is the enemy of efficiency.
Third, in-house team members who pinch hit as copywriters are unlikely to deliver copy that sells. Which is perfectly fine... if the copy's job is subordinate to other creative elements.
Problems arise when that's NOT the case -- when the copy has a specific job. Persuading a prospect or customer to do something -- anything -- through copy alone is hard. That's why you need someone well-versed in the subtlety and nuance of direct response copy.
Fourth, you probably have an annual budget. Failing to use all of it this year means you may get less next year. Next year's budget shortfall could then affect the trajectory of your career -- two, three, even five years from now.
That's not to suggest that you spend money recklessly in order to keep the gravy train rolling. No. That's what the government does and... well... 'nuff said! What I'm suggesting, rather, is that you make strategic investments with your existing budget. Hiring a copywriter for a single, or continuing project, is a fairly safe investment. The finished work is a tangible asset that you can show off.
Fifth, companies of all sizes are shedding fixed costs. Salaries are normally a company's highest fixed cost. The trend is accelerating. If it hasn't hit you yet, stay tuned. It will! So rather than fight it, it's probably wiser to get comfortable hiring freelancers now. That's what'll allow you to make the best selections going forward.
Yes, it's risky
Now, I'd be lying if I told you only one side of the freelance copywriter story. There's always risk involved when working with another human -- salaried employee or freelancer. Here are the most common:
As unpleasant as these risks are, there's something even worse at stake. Hire the wrong freelance copywriter, and YOU end up looking foolish... maybe even negligent. Can you afford that risk to your reputation? Probably not; few could.
It's not my intention to bash anyone... I only call it as I see it. And I've worked with enough clients -- marketing directors, managers, and entrepreneurs -- to know the havoc the wrong freelance copywriter wreaks.
Make the right call
You know how important it is for a freelance copywriter to be reliable. To do what he says he will, when he will -- down to the last jot and title.
So how can you be sure of the copywriter's reliability before starting a project?
Like this. Ask about his methodology... his process... the way he works. If he's experienced, he should have established systems in place for standard projects. You wouldn't be asking an awkward question. Real copywriters love talking about the nuts n' bolts of the work -- we're geeks at heart!
After reliability, you want to see intelligence. This is important. When I say intelligence, I'm not talking about membership in Mensa. I'm talking about the ability and readiness to ask high-value questions. In the moment, these questions aren't always obvious.
However, a sign of a high-value question is one that's tied specifically to a point in the project's background information. Why is this a sign? Two reasons: 1) it shows the copywriter actually read the material (don't laugh -- plenty of them only skim), and 2) he might be touching a blind spot in your marcom.
Ultimately, you want to hire a copywriter with the proven ability to transform background information, existing copy, and his own research into new copy that's specific, plausible, and persuasive.
And for that, you're going to want a copywriter steeped in direct-response tactics.
Direct response copy has many looks
In the copywriting world, direct response copy has always been pitted against "brand" or "image" copy. The ugly against the beautiful. However, common assessments of the two are often wrong.
The distinction between direct response and brand copy comes down to action. That's it. Direct response copy asks the reader, viewer, or listener to take action. Brand copy doesn't. Which means direct response copy does NOT hinge on aesthetics or word count. There's no uniform look, either (e.g., flaming red banners, 1-800 phone numbers). Direct response copy allows you to track results -- the copy's effectiveness. It's based on metrics. Brand copy relies on guesswork and hypothesis.
There's nothing new in what I'm saying. For example, newspaper coupons were an early direct response tactic. The coupons contained a traceable code tied to the paper in which they appeared. That's still how coupons, links, and codes work today. As Peter Drucker said, what gets measured gets managed.
Still, old habits die hard. And for some marketing directors, vanity trumps results. They make copy decisions based on personal preferences rather than metrics. McDonald's used to do that. They stopped last year. Why? The catchy slogans ("I'm lovin' it!") did nothing to reverse declining market share. Now, according to Chief Executive magazine, McDonald's ad agency will only get paid on the profits they make for the burger giant.
My prediction is that other Fortune 500 companies will follow McDonald's into direct response copy.
What does this mean for you?
Look, copywriting is not rocket science. You know that! To be fair, however, few things are. Anybody who can write can, by extension, write copy. But in business, you always want the best chance for success. Past performance, as they say on Wall Street, may not indicate future results, but in the case of a copywriter... it's a worthy yardstick.
But wait... there's more!
I’m also an American Marketing Association (AMA) certified marketer. The AMA is the largest, oldest, and most respected marketing group in the country. They’re concerned with every aspect of marketing: best practices and “next practices.”
Why is this important? Because copywriters can be myopic, missing the forest for the trees. That is, magnifying the importance of copy to the detriment of the other elements necessary for a successful promotion.
Not so with me. Copy is a means to an end. It is NOT the end by itself.
Wrapping it up
Before we bring this to a close, let me summarize. We've talked about reliability in a freelance copywriter (i.e, no flakes). We talked about measuring the effectiveness of the copy -- which only direct response copy does. Finally, we talked about the copywriter's track record as an indicator of future success.
Lastly, you should consider "bonus" traits. While not essential, historically-speaking, all great copywriters:
- Stay on top of trends in marketing, technology, and industry
- Write everyday (or close to it)
- Listen with precision -- can "hear between the lines"
- Know what they don't know -- and readily admit it
- Think like contrarians (if everybody's doing it... it's probably wrong!)
Interested? Intrigued? If what I've said makes sense to you, now is the time for action. To discuss your next project, simply click the button below. It will take you to my contact page. Once there, I'll ask you a few questions before scheduling an appointment.
Idea Guy & Copywriter