How You Know It’s Time To Find A Different Copywriter

How You Know It’s Time To Find A Different Copywriter

Flaky. Unreliable. Arrogant. Incompetent. Long-winded. Unresponsive. Disheveled.

These are just a few words I’ve heard people use to describe copywriters who didn’t live up to expectations. To be fair, most of these words could be used to describe any number of service providers who don’t cut the mustard, but especially creative professionals.

First, let me say that not all copywriters are disheveled. I shave at least once a week, for goodness sake.

Second, there are red flags that you should be able to spot early in the process of choosing a copywriter. If you notice these red flags, do yourself a favor and choose someone else. The aggravation – and the content – likely won’t be worth it.

They Don’t Do Enough Heavy Lifting.

I’m not talking about taking notes and asking for “copy points” – a term I can’t stand, by the way. A marketing copywriter’s heavy lifting involves asking probing questions about a company’s target audience, business goals, challenges and values. This will help the copywriter communicate what you do and the results you deliver in a way your audience will understand.

Copywriters are more than note-takers and typists. They’re good interviewers and translators.

They Don’t Challenge You.

A “yes man” might get a project completed more quickly, but the finished result probably won’t be as strong as it could be. For example, when you say your unique selling proposition is your great customer service, a good copywriter will say that’s not enough. Part of the heavy lifting process is refusing to settle for clichés and crafting a message with substance.

Copywriters make you dig deeper to uncover the most compelling selling points.

They Refuse To Collaborate.

It’s embarrassing, but there are a lot of divas who do what I do. They insist on working in their own little bubble, accountable to nobody. However, in the real world, collaboration breeds success, whether you’re developing a website, a print brochure or a blog strategy. Copywriters, designers, developers and consultants all need to work cohesively.

A good copywriter welcomes collaboration. A diva can bring down your whole team.

They’re Great Writers But Lousy Marketers.

Some people are skilled wordsmiths but don’t know how to put sound marketing strategy behind the words. Or they get so caught up with their own writing wizardry that the marketing message gets lost, and your 500-word blog post is transformed into the next great bad novel.

Your copywriter needs to be equal parts marketer and writer.

They Act Like They Know Everything.

We’ve all encountered salespeople who promise the world in order to close a sale, and then figure out the details later.  If a copywriter claims to be an expert in your field, ask for their thoughts on topics that are relevant to your customers. This will prove how much they know – and whether or not you can trust them.

A copywriter probably won’t have your level of expertise, but they should at least be honest about it.

They Don’t Include Any Revisions In Their Cost.

Every content writing proposal should include two rounds of revisions, which is pretty standard for any creative service. If revisions aren’t included, the copywriter could potentially refuse to revise content or make you pay for any revisions.

Revisions are an inevitable part of the game, not a hidden cost.

They Like To Talk About Their Awards.

Here’s the thing about award competitions. Rarely does the phrase “produced measurable results” appear anywhere in the judging criteria. Some agencies have even run an ad or published content for no other purpose but to make it eligible for an award. This means they care more about winning awards and landing their next job than producing results for you.

Results matter. Awards don’t.

They Don’t Practice What They Preach.

Personally, I would never hire a copywriter who doesn’t write their own content on a regular basis. If you’re evaluating a copywriter, ask for examples of content they’ve written about marketing, not just a portfolio of what they’ve written for others. This content provides insights into their approach and style and shows passion for what they do.

Content shouldn’t just be something a copywriter does to pay the bills. It should be something the copywriter believes in.

What do you look for in a copywriter? What makes you run in the other direction? Do you have a horror story to share? Let me know!

Scott McKelvey
Scott helps business owners enhance their brand, build relationships and increase revenue by developing marketing messages that focus on the needs of their clients. Scott writes content for all things marketing, from websites and blogs to web videos and brochures. As Creative Director for New Jersey’s largest radio stations and TargetSpot, the nation’s largest internet radio advertising network, Scott has helped local, regional and national brands maximize ROI by combining powerful messaging with strategic geographic and demographic targeting. Scott's philosophy is simple: Show your target audience how your product can solve a real problem or fill a real need in their lives and you'll build a base of loyal customers. Visit Scott's site for more about his writing philosophy and experience.
Scott McKelvey
Scott McKelvey
  • Kimberly Crossland

    Great article, Scott! I agree with most of your points. The only thing that I’d say is that I get too many clients confusing this statement, “They’re good interviewers and translators.” with “Copywriters are mind readers and always know exactly what you want even when you don’t”. I definitely spend a good chunk of time interviewing my clients before the pen ever hits the paper (so to speak), and I definitely translate statements like “our service is what sets us apart from the competition” into something far more meaningful/valuable to the end reader, but many times people request copy too early and then decide to completely shift their focus. I try to warn of this if I see red flags, but a few cases sometimes slip through the cracks because of a CEO’s excitement and eagerness to launch something that’s not ready.

    • Thanks, Kimberly – Well, I don’t think any of us have found the remedy for the difficult client who always changes his or her mind. However, I think our job as copywriters during the interview process is to get the client to identify what is it is about their service that sets them apart from the competition. This helps us prove to the client that this is or isn’t a strong selling point. Next time someone asks to see content early, ask them if they would demand to have their meal removed from an oven served before it’s finished 🙂

  • Good post, Scott! I would quibble with the assertion that two rounds of revision is standard, though. Some do, of course. Many, if not most, of the other copywriters I know offer one set of revisions. Sometimes I’ll offer two, if it’s a significant piece of substantial length and complexity, but for most shorter pieces, I offer one.

    • Thanks, Annie. Believe it or not, I’ve run into copywriters who offer three rounds of revisions! I guess it can depend on the type of content you’re writing. I offer two rounds of revisions for just about anything but rarely get to that point. For me, it’s more about providing the client with peace of mind by showing I’m willing to work with them to achieve the desired result – within reason, of course! If we do our heavy lifting, more than one revision shouldn’t be necessary. The larger point I was making is that revisions are part of the process, and a writer who doesn’t account for that could be trouble.

      What do other writers think? What’s an acceptable number of revisions?

  • I would have to agree with Annie that 2 rounds doesn’t have to be standard – especially for short pieces. I only offer one revision in general. The only exception is anything that is long or complex or for a client that I do a lot of work for who typically doesn’t ask for a lot of revisions. Although the bulk of the work I do is shorter pieces in higher volume so perhaps that’s why I disagree.

    • Robin – We’ll just agree to disagree. Most writers I’ve known include two revisions, so I consider that standard, but every writer is entitled to set their own parameters. Like I said, it rarely gets to that point with me and it makes my clients more comfortable, especially smaller clients.