Becky Matthews

PRO

31 January 2017

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 “these changes will just take 5 minutes” and “I love it, but the end client isn’t so keen” to complete radio silence.

For me, silence is the worst response (ok, the absolute worst is when the client hates the copy). 

Bad feedback is overly 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, so feedback can be collaborative.

Of course, not every client is a creative one, but that doesn’t stop them having an opinion on how the job should be done.

I’m happy for clients to tell me what they 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 fix your problem  – but you might help things along by explaining the history of previous works in your home.

Actions speak louder than words

Yep, I did it. I shamelessly reclaimed a cliche to make a point. 

I encourage my clients to give feedback in clear, actionable points, rather than expressing vague sentiments.

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 for a freelancer is feedback by committee.

This tends to happen with large end clients and smaller companies who have little or no experience of 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 their knowledge doesn’t land on the page without a little filtering. 

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 to keep track of terminology is to use (or update) a style guide. Smaller clients often don’t have one, but there are some fantastic examples to help create style guides 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

I always build in time for feedback when I’m scheduling projects (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 client, a call can be helpful to clarify the issues and find a solution that pleases everyone.

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 grow our business. 

Honest reviews and discussions help everyone improve, which is especially important when you’re building long-term relationships with clients. As much as copywriters love to be told their work is great, a little constructive feedback can go a long way.

Did you find my tips useful? Please share your thoughts on feedback in the comments below.


What do you think?

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Kate

February 9, 2017 at 2:34pm

Some great points. I had one client who kept giving me feedback like, ‘It needs to be stronger, but gentler too.’Needless to say I don’t think either of us ended up happy with the copy.

PRO

Becky Matthews

February 11, 2017 at 11:08pm

Thanks! Yes, that’s exactly the kind of feedback I’m talking about.