This is a guest post from Jack Kelleher he is a junior copywriter at TopLine Comms, a B2B digital PR and SEO agency based in London.
Three months ago, I nervously approached the office door to start my first “real” job, wracked with uncertainty. Was I right for the job? Could I handle the workload? What does a ‘copywriter’ even do? Since then, I’ve settled in – happily, everybody at the company has been incredibly welcoming – and become a fully-fledged member of the content team. And I’ve learned a lot.
As a junior copywriter, my day to day work is turning briefs into articles, blogs, white papers, newsletters, video scripts and all sorts of other types of prose. The agency I work at, TopLine Comms, is a B2B digital PR and SEO agency with a range of tech and STEM clients, so there is always something new and exciting to write about.
Although I’ve already learned a lot, I’m certainly not under the illusion that I know even a fraction of what there is to know about this line of work. However, I do have some real-world advice for anybody looking to take the same path I did. Whether you’re considering starting out as a copywriter yourself, or work in PR and want to help out new hires, here are five things I wish I had known on my first day.
1: Learn the language
Effective writers know the importance of using precise language, and the profession of copywriting is no different. What new hires may not be familiar with, however, are the collection of terms and phrases within the world of PR and copywriting.
The industry has its own unique lexicon, and copywriting is no different. Fortunately, most of these terms are simple, and you probably know a few of them already. For instance, the process of writing ‘copy’ – the body of the article, email, or other text that is the majority of the copywriter’s job – begins with a ‘brief’ – a set of information specifying what the copy needs to include, as well as other details such as desired tone and word count. Once you have written up the content, your ‘draft’ will be passed on for someone else to ‘proof’, or ‘proofread’ to spot errors. As a copywriter, you’ll probably be involved in proofing your colleagues’ work.
It goes without saying that there’s plenty more to know, but setting out on your journey, I would encourage new copywriters to stay observant and try to learn the words that will eventually define your day. Knowing the names of concepts and processes in the job can help you to learn and communicate issues and help you to get the right start. In short, knowing the language is the first step to mastering the job.
2: Don’t hesitate to ask questions
“If you don’t know, ask” is common advice for a reason. Within the world of copywriting, it’s especially important since a question asked early-on can prevent significant problems down the road. If in doubt, it’s better to reach out and ask any questions before you’ve written a 1,000-word article – trust me, I’ve learned this lesson first-hand.
Your colleagues know that you are new, and they can all relate to the overwhelming experience of starting a new job.
They will almost certainly be happy to answer any of your questions, or at least point you in the right direction to find the answer yourself.
For copywriting-specific questions, it’s worth asking the other copywriters you work with.
Writing is a skill, and your copywriting colleagues might be able to share some advice on everything from specific client preferences on the Oxford Comma to the way your agency approaches fact-checking.
3: Not all deadlines are set in stone
Sometimes, a copywriter will be assigned more work than they could possibly do in 24 hours – let alone a working day. This deluge of briefs isn’t an intentional attempt to undermine your sanity, but rather a coincidence as new work comes in.
Some deadlines are more critical than others and knowing which deadlines are flexible is essential to managing your workload effectively.
Communicate with your colleagues and boss to let them know that you are at maximum capacity and find out what can be pushed back. Many deadlines are ‘as soon as possible’, but that doesn’t mean ‘incredibly urgent’, and a day or two of delay is often not catastrophic.
Similarly, if you know that something urgent does need to take precedence over other assignments, let your colleagues know so that they can adjust their expectations.
Understanding that deadlines are flexible is different to handing in work late, of course, and the sooner you let someone know that your draft will be late, the more likely that they’ll offer you sympathy and flexibility.
4: Follow the brief!
The brief is your map when it comes to navigating the world of copywriting: it tells you what you need to cover, how, and by what deadline. Sometimes, it can be tempting to get overly creative and stray from the brief.
It’s easy, for instance, to get carried away and start adding your own points or stylistic flourishes, but these will inevitably be met with a request to rewrite the piece according to the brief. If you do think that you can offer a substantive improvement to the brief, speak with the person who assigned it to you.
They may be open to your idea or they may not, and in either case, it’s worth knowing before you start typing.
However, even the brief is not infallible. One of the most important lessons that the other copywriters at my agency have taught me is to send back briefs which are ambiguous or lacking in key information. Just like asking questions, clarifying an unclear brief can save you a lot of time and prevent a lot of headaches.
5: Do your homework.
Before committing a single word to paper, you should have a robust understanding of the client, the publication, and the subject you’re writing about. You’re not expected to know everything about the client or publication – especially when you’re starting out – but getting a feel for tone and purpose is the ideal way to elevate your writing above generic pablum.
Your company likely keeps a collection, probably online, of previous drafts and submissions to clients. This can be an invaluable resource if you have questions about a specific client’s preferred tone or other preferences, so make sure to familiarise yourself with what is available.
Starting out as a copywriter
Overall, after three months of stumbling and learning on the job, I finally feel confident taking on the work of copywriting. It is equal parts rewarding and challenging, and I still have a lot I want to improve, but I no longer feel intimidated when I see a new brief come through (unless it’s for several thousand words).
From research to structuring and, of course, writing, I have found that copywriting is fairly similar to persuasive essay writing at school and university, so if that’s one of your strengths, consider starting your career as a copywriter.
If you enjoy the challenge of untangling a complicated sentence, threading the linguistic needle of explaining a complex concept in simple terms, and bringing a fresh approach to a stale topic, copywriting might also be the job for you.
The one thing, above all, that I wish I had known on my first day is that everything would be alright. It’s tough starting a new job, but you’ll soon adapt, and, in the meantime, everybody will do their best to be supportive and accommodating.
Copywriting is challenging, but it’s not brain surgery, and if you’ve managed to get yourself hired, your employer necessarily thinks that you can probably do the work.
So, take it from me, as long as you approach the job with an open mind, are willing to learn, communicate with your colleagues, and follow the brief, everything will be alright.
Outreach programs always start with enthusiasm and the best intentions. Vibes are high, the campaign manager has pictures of fantastic results in his/her mind, company wide accolades, failing that a pat on the back from their manager and potentially even a nice little bonus or promotion if it goes really, really well.
This stage is really important because anything new has to start with enthusiasm or it would never actually happen. No-one is going to start something they feel is doomed to fail! Without enthusiasm the campaign doesn’t get the investment / resource it needs.
The next stage is equally important, the strategy document.
The strategy document is where the plan is laid out, the framework for the campaign which makes sure everyone is on the same page and knows where to get access to templates, naming conventions and so on. Again, super important.
Then the campaign kicks off, and that’s what we are going to talk about today. This is the bit I think I’m best placed to talk about. I might be odd in that doing the actual work bit, the actual outreach and getting the real results is the bit I enjoy (many people don’t!)
I enjoy it because there is a gap.
There is a gap between the enthusiasm combined with the strategy document, and the real results.
The campaign will always need to be adjusted potentially several times as it progresses if it is to get results and that’s the bit I’m there for (and the reason you shouldn’t hire a junior person or assistant to run your outreach campaign).
What happens when the campaign actually starts and how to avoid some pitfalls that are common when an outreach program progresses.
For the sake of this article we are going to take a 6 week campaign as an example.
So, let’s get started! It’s very, very likely that the person who is running the outreach campaign will run into one or several of these issues. Read on to find out what you can do about it.
1. Running out of leads too quickly
Throughout the campaign it’s important to keep an eye on how many prospects you have. The ideal situation is one where you have perfectly grouped prospects in your pipeline ready to be bucketed and sent your templates for A/B testing.
However, more often than not you’ll probably have less leads than you thought you would. As long as you stick to this one rule you should be able to keep the momentum going.
Make sure that you have a bunch of leads ready and waiting to be emailed out the following morning. Even if it’s just 20 leads, that is better than non. Then, first thing, log onto your pitching software, or email if you are doing it manually, and email those leads straight away.
2. Leads are not targeted
Successful outreach campaigns must be targeted. The person reading your email needs to see that the offer you are suggesting fits their blog. It’s not a case of just emailing 2,000 people and hoping that some of them respond.
Yes, some of them probably will respond, but not the bloggers you want. And you’ll also get many more angry and annoyed responses too which is not the way to promote yours or your clients business.
3. Low response rate on a template
The average response rate after 3 email attempts, i.e. an initial email and 2 follow up emails is 30 - 40%. If a third of people come back to you then you know that you have set up a healthy, targeted campaign, that the people you are contacting are at least interested in discussing with you.
If your response rate is less than 10% after 3 email attempts that is a warning sign that something is going wrong and you need to work out why.
If you have access to open rates then you can see how many people open your email. If you have a high open rate but a low response then you know that it is probably your offer that is the issue. If you have a low open rate then you know it could be your targeting.
Try to identify the problem and set up a new campaign based on your findings and see if the response rate improves. It can take some time, but once you have a converting campaign you can keep adding the leads to it and using it so it is worth the effort. The longest part of the process is finding good leads, so, it is worth making sure you are getting the highest conversion possible.
4. Forgetting to close in on leads (time poor)
I have to check myself on this as well. It’s easy to get into the habit of emailing new people and not going back to follow up and check the people you are already speaking with.
The people you have started a conversation with are the most likely to want to partner with you so make sure you check in on them. I usually go back to my last client update report and look at the leads I have reported on, then go through one by one and follow up with them every 3 or 4 days.
5. Spending too much time editing each lead
There are lots of outreach gurus which say you must include the bloggers name and the website in your pitch. I don’t actually believe that is always needed. In my opinion the targeting and the offer are the most important things to get right. If you have the bloggers name readily available then yes, definitely include it. But editing the details on each lead takes quite a lot of time so be wary at this stage of spending too much time getting everything just perfect. Outreach tools really help with this because you can import a bunch of urls and they will find the details for you.
6. Spending more time on the copy than the offer
There is a certain structure you should follow when it comes to writing outreach emails. And I’ll write another post on that. But in terms of the copy i.e. the phrasing, I believe it is not as important as the offer.
Of course, if no-one can understand what your offer is then that’s an issue. But you don’t have to worry too much. In fact, worrying about your copy leads to it being overly formal and not connecting with the reader. Try to sound out what you are saying in your mind as you write it.
The most important part is to connect with the person you are emailing, you need them to see you as a person, not a robot.
7. Not getting the resource you were promised
As I mentioned right at the beginning of this article. Outreach campaigns rarely go exactly to plan. And one of the issues can be that you do not get the resource you thought you were going to get. I.e. you were promised someone to help with prospecting and editing the leads but then find out that this person had to be let go early on in the campaign.
When this happens you just need to adapt and find another way. Make it clear that you still require this resource & discuss how you can move forward with the client. For example, you might agree on more hours so that you can do the prospecting until a replacement has been found.
I hope this has drilled down into some specific areas that can go wrong during an outreach campaign. Being aware of them now and knowing what to do will help you when you are in the midst of a campaign!
Outreach is a challenging role (the reason I enjoy it!), but stay strong and stay focused on building partnerships and you’ll get the results you are looking for!
Did you enjoy this post? If so stick around for more! I cover plenty of tips about how to do better outreach , and also tips on how to grow a blog. These are both services I offer my content marketing clients within my freelancing business.
I also write about my freelancing lifestyle & business over at The Happy Freelancer, so if you are thinking about starting your own freelance business then check it out. And if you are a blogger interested in collaborating with brands + other bloggers I run a community of UK based lifestyle & parent bloggers over at Guest Bloggers Wanted.
Written by Cheryl A Clarke Chief Happiness Officer & Content Marketing Freelancer @ Ginger Marketing (unless stated otherwise)
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