You’ve received your first draft and you want to feed your comments back to the writer. Do it constructively and round two should be plain sailing. Having been the writer, and the one giving the feedback, here are some tips I’ve picked up on the way.
1. Be kind. If the copy’s not right the first time it could be down to a million and one things so don’t automatically assume the writer’s an idiot. They will undoubtedly have tried their best and if the work’s not up to scratch they’ll be as mortified as you. So, unless they are an idiot, start with the positives and be constructive about the negatives.
2. Stick to the facts. Is what they’ve written factually wrong? Does it fail to communicate the right information? Is it too long? Off brand? Does it have grammatical errors or spelling mistakes? If so, that’s the sort of feedback the writer needs to know. Does it include a word that reminds you of your ex? Do you have a bugbear about hyphens? Would you have put in more exclamation marks? Sorry, but that sort of feedback is both subjective and superfluous. The writer is choosing words that will resonate with your target audience (which could include your ex, but might not include you), so please leave personal preferences out of your comments.
3. Be specific. Copywriters are not mind readers. So comments need context and clarity. “As before” will only make sense if you state when or where. “See Annual Report” will take hours unless you add “second paragraph, page 231”. And if you’re going to write “change” please state what to. If you’re an account manager, and you’ve received cryptic feedback from your client, do clarify what they mean before you forward their comments to the writer. If you don’t understand your client, chances are the writer won’t either.
4. Pay attention. Giving feedback is boring and time-consuming. Which is why you only want to do it once – twice at a push. The more rounds of amends you have, the less everyone involved will care about the final product. And the less you’ll be able to see the wood for the trees. So grab a cup of coffee. Put some soothing music on. And concentrate.
5. Keep the conversation flowing. It’s all too easy to receive a Word document from a copywriter and assume their job’s done. But it’s not. Copy should always be judged in context so once copy has been dropped into designs show it to the writer again. What looks good on a blank sheet of paper doesn’t always work when it’s sharing space with graphics and photos. And never, ever, ever leave the designer in charge of the Photoshop scissors icon.
1. Use the word “fine”. Good copywriters don’t want to do work that’s “fine”. They want to do “great” work. “Spot on” work. They want to hear things like “wow, you’ve cracked it” and “you’ve done in a day what the agency has failed to do in six months”. “Fine” is the equivalent of a Gallic shrug. Writers want a kiss on both cheeks and a warm, bosomy hug – if, and only if, it’s deserved. If it’s not good enough, of course you must say so. But if it’s brilliant let the writer know.
2. Rewrite. If you’ve hired a copywriter a) you’ve accepted they can probably write better than you b) you are too busy or c) you respect their experience and the input they can offer. So why oh why oh why would you choose to rewrite their words when giving feedback? It helps nobody. The writer will feel affronted and you will have wasted time. Instead of rewriting, add a comment about what needs changing, adding, deleting or rewriting. Then let them get on with it.
3. Play Pass the Parcel with the copy deck. We’ve all seen them. Copy documents that resemble some sort of pastel-coloured patchwork with dozens of different commentators all putting their two-penneth in. More often than not these comments offer conflicting opinions, provide a forum for internal discussions or, worse still, a place for comment one-upmanship between departments. Ultimately one person needs to collate these comments, mediate between the warring factions and give a clear, coherent and consolidated feedback document.
4. Ask another writer to implement feedback. There will always be occasions when you have no choice, but it is a false economy to get one writer to amend another’s copy. They won’t have had the full briefing. They won’t know why something’s been written that way in the first place. And they may have a completely different writing style. It really will be faster – and better – to wait until the original writer is available.
5. Forget, the better the brief, the fewer the amends. By the time you’re reading this it may be too late. You may sitting in front of a car crash piece of copy and wondering where it all went wrong. Nine times out of ten it will be right back at the beginning – at the briefing stage. So, if you want things to be better next time, find out how to brief a copywriter.