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Copy writing

By The Drum | Administrator

June 9, 2004 | 8 min read

Andrew Craig

Creative Director, Realise

Using freelance copywriters makes total sense for us here at Realise.

Our client offering is wide – from interactive games and banner ads to large-scale websites. Some of these projects need a copywriter. Some don’t. As a business, we can’t justify having these skills in-house so we use freelancers when there’s a client need. Besides, not all of us can write proper.

The usual criticism thrown at all freelancers is that they don’t have an intimate knowledge of the client. But perhaps that’s no bad thing.

Freelancers are a fresh pair of eyes on a project – they bring a breadth of alternative ideas and thinking. From a staff development point of view, it’s great for our designers. They can be stimulated and learn from a mix of people and approaches. The more cynical would argue that freelancers have the hunger – they need to be good or they won’t get the work. Then they really will get hungry.

Primarily, we use writers for website development. Site visitors are generally looking for information, so it’s vital the copy is clear, well written and informative. It’s a totally different skill from writing advertising body copy. Using freelancers means we can select the writer with the most relevant skills for the brand and the audience. In saying that, it’s not unusual for clients to write their own copy – which we can then polish with the help of a freelancer.

We are currently redeveloping our own site and it was obvious we couldn’t do the words justice. Alan Black from Blackad was commissioned to write the copy and has made a great contribution to the overall thinking on the project.

We can all be guilty of getting too close to a piece of work – he’s given us a totally objective point of view. Even if he does have a voracious appetite for the complimentary Kit-Kats.

Andrew Wolffe

Managing Director, Wolffe & Co

If I want great shots, I use a photographer with a great eye. If I want original artwork, I commission an illustrator with an original style. If I want good copy, I work with a writer who’s good at setting the scene, telling a story or selling a product or service.

Unlike advertising agencies, most design consultancies don’t have the ongoing need for, and can’t afford the luxury of having, an in-house writer. Yet the relationship between a designer and freelance writer is as important as the one between an advertising art director and copywriter. Writing deserves to be an integrated element of the design process. It is as important as photography, illustration and print. Words take on more meaning with good typography and design takes on more meaning with good words.

Working with freelance writers means we can choose the right writer for the right project but it’s just as important to choose the right time to get them involved. Calling in a writer too early in a project could stop you getting things clear in your mind or interfere with developing your own spin on the client’s brief. On the other hand, leaving it too late could mean wasting precious time and resources meandering down creative cul-de-sacs. By and large, I’ve found that the best results come from briefing a writer in the early stages and getting their input before anything is set in stone.

When it comes to creative brainstorming, very often two heads are better than one, particularly if it’s a regular sparring partner and you enjoy the kind of relationship where you understand each other and can get on the same wavelength. Wolffe and Co’s relationship with freelance copywriter Simon Platt is a good example. I first commissioned Simon soon after setting up on my own, following the recommendation of another designer. One successful job led to another and now Simon is one of our key freelance writers, working with us on a range of clients and projects.

Some of our best work together has been on behalf of the Westin Turnberry Resort. As one of the world’s premier golf and leisure destinations, Turnberry is a highly discerning client. Over the years, Simon has developed a valuable understanding and appreciation of all that the resort has to offer and what makes it so special. Both the client and I can be confident that Simon will write copy that meets the brief, conveys Turnberry’s unique qualities and gets results.

Commissioning a freelance writer can even lead to a happy ending. Over ten years ago, I worked with Alison Caldwell on a range of customer literature for the Royal Bank of Scotland. Three children and marriage weren’t part of the brief but I can’t say a word against it.

Richard Irvine

Managing Director, Redpath Design Ltd

Having worked as a writer for design for almost twenty years, it still amazes me that, unlike our colleagues in direct response and advertising, the majority of our industry still treats writing as an outsourced skill to be brought in as and when projects demand it, rather than as an integral part of developing effective communication.

When I started working alongside graphic designers in the mid 80s, concepts were presented as scamps or paste-ups and layouts were hand-drawn on trace paper. The only copy that was ever presented in situ was perhaps the odd headline (remember Letraset, rub-downs and omnicrom machines?) and the rest was always lorem ipsum photocopied to scale before being cut and pasted. So it was perhaps unsurprising that designers regarded copy as simply another visual element on the page – a grey tint to be played around with until it helped create a pleasing and balanced composition. Needless to say, this “let’s get the layout approved and worry about what the copy actually needs to say later” approach led to all sorts of problems down the line ...

Happily, there were also some enlightened designers and consultancies around. And oh, how much easier it was when writer and designer worked together from the initial briefing through to final delivery. Function matched form. Content wasn’t over-ridden by style. And the words and the pictures (for want of a better phrase) seemed to fit together seamlessly.

It was this experience, really, that prompted the decision to set up Redpath almost ten years ago as a company where writers and designers work together right from the start of the process.

In our office, writers sit side by side with designers and bat ideas around freely, much as creative teams do in advertising. After all, it’s the idea that’s important, not who comes up with it. But having wordsmiths in-house has huge benefits downstream, too. Good commercial writers are voracious consumers of information and have well-developed abilities in terms of sifting out the relevant. Which puts them in a prime position to help argue the case for a particular approach, structure or idea. And there are other upsides. Tone of voice issues are always considered when communicating for or about a brand. Typos are a thing of the past (well, almost). And, not least, no matter how many last-minute client changes have to be accommodated, the copy always reads – and fits – well.

David Gardner

Managing Director, Run Deep Ltd

Historically, Run Deep employed full time writing staff, but over the last 12 months our approach has changed dramatically. If I’m being honest, this was by chance rather than by design, when both our writers went part-time.

Since then we have become huge advocates of freelance writers and now use around half-a-dozen on a regular basis.

There are many reasons for this. For starters, we have a diverse client base. As everyone we use has a different writing style we can always provide our clients with the style they require.

There are other instances when we are called on to create a magazine or e-mail newsletter. Using a range of writers for the challenge is both quick and keeps all the content fresh.

To add to all this is the undeniable financial advantage, as we can now adapt to meet the ever-changing demands on resource more easily.

Run Deep is primarily an e-business company and one of the biggest issues we face when looking for freelance writers is finding people who can transfer their traditional offline skills to the web. People do read differently online Рit may be a clich̩ but it is very true.

One writer who has achieved this is Liz Holt who, despite the restrictions of the web, manages to introduce a great deal of creativity into her web-writing.

There are other examples where, because of the focus on one account, our writers have developed an in-depth knowledge of a specific client or sector, which has been an enormous benefit to Run Deep and the client.

Yes, there are some disadvantages to using freelance writers but I believe these are outweighed by increased flexibility and access to a wider range of writing styles.

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