As a copywriter, I’m occasionally faced with the concept of content by committee. Or copy by committee, to reference my proper title. But before I bore you with what the phrase ‘content by committee’ actually means (or my take on it, at least), let me just tell you that I care about 3 opinions – and three opinions only – when it comes to working with my copywriting clients:
- The opinion of you as the person paying (or at least authorising) my invoice. I work with key decision-makers and with people trusted to go out and do the right thing with their company’s copy and cash. I’m here for that trust and that challenge.
- The opinion of the exact people you’re trying to reach with the copy or content that I write for you, eg – existing clients you want to keep working with, potential clients you want to take to the next level, or past clients who you’d love to reconnect with or get back on board. The same goes for customers, if you’re selling a product.
- The opinion of me. Everyone loves their own opinion, otherwise they wouldn’t bother holding or voicing one, so it would be a lie to tell you that our work together ‘isn’t about me’. It’s your project, your wishes and your audience, for sure, but it’s also your money that’s paying me for what I can do in terms of all those things that you couldn’t or want to do yourself.
As a result of my commitment to these 3 opinion holders, I’m not a fan of the concept of content by committee (CBC) at all, which is when everyone and their sister’s hairdresser has a say on what they want to put in or get out of your project.
I’m not saying that more than one person can’t be involved in the decision-making process, of course. Not at all – it’s great to collaborate (oooh, might sell that to someone as a tagline for something), and to pool some ideas and toss out the trash early doors is a great company exercise. But the issue comes when either:
a) The ‘committee’ involved want completely different things or have completely different objectives,
b) The ‘committee’ involved clearly cannot agree on a vision and therefore try and blur everything together in one attempt at middle ground that says everything without saying anything at all, or
c) The ‘committee’ involved has clearly let the situation get away from them in the time it’s taken me to do the work, and have subsequently invited everyone in for a pow-wow-what-now to figure out where we go next.
I’ve worked hard (believe it or not) for a good few years to get myself into a position where all of my clients are inbound, and so generally, those lovely people who come to me no questions asked and cash in hand (not literally, in case HMRC are reading my blogs with anticipation) already know what they want, are ready to get the job done, and trust me to be the copywriter and all-round wonderful human to do it all justice.
But nothing is foolproof, my friends (not calling any clients fools there, by the way). Every now and then, despite me warning potential clients in my early contact, as well as me specifically talking about it in my terms and conditions presented clearly and hilariously on my website, and even my turn at showcasing my ground rules in my (hopefully) beautiful but bold branding videos, content by committee creeps in.
And so, I guess I’m writing this blog to explain my stance on it, to further forewarn any potential clients about said stance on it, and to encourage anyone reading this who is nodding along in resonance to put systems in place to save themselves from having to deal with it in the future.
Even if I have a conversation with just one person, I can tell if CBC has taken place behind the scenes, because the brief will be something like:
“We want to be like Innocent, but we don’t want to come across as being anything like Innocent.”
“We need to hit home that we’re a marketing agency, but we don’t want people to think we’re a marketing agency.” (Ohhh that one was painfully real).
An even better clear-as-mud example is when I’m asked to create copy that “needs to to be zingy, but not too zingy.”
Okay, so even if you’re not a copywriter – and you’re not, because otherwise why are you throwing cash at me – but “zingy” is pretty much as absolute as it gets in the world of adjectives. It can’t be less and it can’t be more. Zingy just is.
I know this is CBC speaking, because someone will have spotted a trend or jumped on a buzzword, and then someone else in an equal or higher position of power will have either directly shot it down or visibly winced in response to show they’re not too happy about the trendy buzziness. Content by committee is a disaster, and it doesn’t work for me or for you. I can’t serve 2 masters. I can barely serve one, FFS.
Too many cooks, people. Or in the case of people who don’t know what they’re talking about but insist on micromanaging everything… too many cocks spoil the broth. You could argue that even one cock could spoil a good broth, but that’s a post for a different time. Those are the people who, when the meeting you’re in on a Friday afternoon has the chance to finish early, raise their hand and say, “Can I just ask another couple of questions…”
Now, whilst I do understand that content by committee is to an extent expected in the briefing stage, where I really crack down is with CBC in the editing and sign-off stage. Again, I’m not saying that more than one person can’t review, have an opinion on, or put forward amendments to something that’s been created. Not the case.
My requirement for my own clients in particular, however, is that decision-makers are either all in or all out. In other words, if they weren’t there for the input, they don’t get a say on the output.
Assessing the measure of something is impossible if you don’t know what your starting point was or what you’re measuring it against, so dragging someone in to have a say on something that they had no part of in the planning stages is a tad ridiculous, in my (beautifully written) book.
If said person is that important, I’d question why you didn’t need to run your stuff by them in the first instance. All in, or all out.
If you give people the opportunity to have the power to change something, that’s exactly what they’ll do – regardless of what it shits all over in the first instance. Give everyone an opinion, and the output will please precisely no-one.
Though this blog appears to be very ‘team’ focused, I think I’m actually angling it more at the people who perhaps don’t have a team to report to or run things by. Small business owners, essentially. I’m a freelancer, and it can be all sorts of lonely out here, and so I fully admit that it can sometimes make you worry about your decision making if there’s nobody around to bounce ideas off in the first place – never mind refine them to get your thoughts and objectives absolutely nailed down.
I’ll often combat this by speaking to the other half (as my husband he’s always wrong, but as a business owner he’s very nearly always right). I’ll also throw things into the WhatsApp groups I’m in, where groups of great mates I’ve met through business throughout the years have come together because we’ve likely all been kicked out of proper networking groups. But I know that not every business owner has resources like that, and so I do totally understand when the person who holds responsibility for pretty much everything may want a second opinion…
Having said that, I have to draw some lines. As I’ve already mentioned, if I hand you a beautifully crafted draft, and the person you turn to whilst you review it didn’t have involvement in the input (the brief), I don’t believe they should get a say on the output (the stuff I created from said brief). But, if you must ask someone else in the review stage (and I do understand that, genuinely), here are some rules that are as much for your benefit as they are for mine (other great copywriters are available):
- If you must ask someone else… do it before you come back to me with your own thoughts. The minute I get feedback from you, I like to start planning the changes and acting on those improvements you need so I get can everything lovely and perfect for you. I’m totally not up for making edits to edits at the request of someone who isn’t even paying me to make them. Gather your feedback, come to a decision you’re happy with, then hit me up to put it right.
- If you must ask someone else… make sure the person is relevant to the task. The second cousin with a GCSE in English, the mate down the pub who ‘knows his stuff’, the life coach who’s ‘worked with copywriters before’ yet somehow failed to recommend one to you in the first place… ask yourself what relevance they have to the task at hand. If you didn’t want their input at the start, why should they get to sign everything off at the end?
- If you must ask someone else… ask yourself if they’re your audience. Have they ever bought from you in the past? Would they ever buy from you in the future? Are they ever even likely to stumble across this piece of copy or content in the wild and have it planted firmly on their radar?
The way I see it, is that YOU are paying ME to do a good job, so WE are the only people who matter. We both need this to work, so although I’ve got strong opinions (and you’ll always get them whether you asked for them or not), ultimately I’m going to craft and create copy and content that does what YOU need it to do and makes ME look bloody great in the process.
By all means invite others to the party, but unless they’re on time, bringing gifts, and ready to have some fun, don’t expect me to pass my parcel to them.
I wanted that ending to be quite sassy and powerful. I’m actually just sitting here sniggering at ‘parcel’, though…
First published on agoodwriteup.com