Up your content game: How to get more out of your writers
by Vanessa Chris
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Not every piece of content I’ve generated in my lifetime has been stellar. In fact, some of my pieces have downright sucked.
So why am I sharing this less-than-flattering truth bomb about myself—when I’m supposed to be convincing you of the merits of hiring a professional writer?
Because, chances are, you’ve hired freelance writers or agencies in the past with less-than-impressive results. In fact, I’m guessing there’s been at least one time that the content you received was so weak you were tempted to throw in the towel and never hire an external writer again.
(Let me know if I’m close.)
If you’ve found yourself in this position once, you could easily pass that off as bad luck. You lost the corporate writer lottery, so to speak, and it’s time to try again. But if you continually get back less-than-stellar content from your external writing partners time and time again? I hate to say this, but the problem may not be them. It may be you. Well, more specifically, your outsourcing processes.
Fortunately, processes are easily fixable. In fact, I can think of three, fool-proof, minor tweaks you can make right now that will considerably up your chances of filling the web with really awesome, captivating, thought-leading content. And, on behalf of corporate writers everywhere, I’d like to share them with you.
Step 1: Know your why
Content marketing: It’s so hot right now. But creating content simply for the sake of keeping up with the masses is—thhppppt!—the worst. For it to truly make an impact, it has to have a purpose. And while improving your search engine ranking can be a wonderful by-product of that overall purpose, it should not be the sole reason you’re producing content.
So before you pick up the phone and ask a writer for a quote, spend some time really thinking about what you want to get out of this blog post, or landing page, or LinkedIn article or whatever you need written. Do you want to educate potential customers? Clarify a common misconception? Subtly let the world know about your new product offering? Showcase the bright minds of your in-house thought leaders?
Whatever it is, pinpoint it—and figure out your ultimate call to action. What do you want your readers to do with this information? Pick up the phone to call you? Sign up for your newsletter? Renew a contract?
Please, for the love of all things content-related, don’t skip this step! All this information will be invaluable down the road. Trust me.
Step 2: Master the art of the brief
Once you’ve put some thought into your “why”, you must collect it all and put it in a nice, tidy, information-rich-but-not-overwhelming brief. (See? I told you all that work would pay off!) If you want good content, this is non-negotiable.
Now you’re probably saying, “Oh, we can skip this step because we already use creative briefs.”
This is your opportunity to look at the creative briefs you’ve been issuing your writers—not the template, but the actual, filled-out briefs—and evaluate how informative they really are. Are they clearly articulating your aforementioned purpose, audience, and call to action? Are they answering the 5ws: who, what, where, when, and why? Most important, are they giving your writer a really good starting point—so he/she knows how to focus their follow-up questions?
Too often in our line of work, we see creative briefs treated as some pain-in-the-butt thing mandated by marketing, rather than the incredibly valuable documents they are. Which leads to my next point…
Step 3: Get everyone on board
It’s a corporate writer’s job to take your knowledge, ideas, and experience and transform them into a captivating story that reels in your target audience while simultaneously making your company stand out. The thing is, our understanding of your business doesn’t hold a candle to yours. Which is why we need your help.
We need you to take all that valuable, juicy, interesting information swimming around in your head—or your colleague’s heads, or your company’s database—and unload the most pertinent tidbits to us, so we can work our magic.
This means you need to get the buy-in and commitment of your subject matter experts so they come to interviews well-prepared, with a clear and insightful company message. It means everyone understands the purpose of the article and how they can incite the preferred call-to-action. And it means you know which previous articles, brochures, or collateral tucked away in the depths of your database can help us really bring your message home.
Talk it out
As with all relationships, you and your writer may need a few encounters before things really start to click. That said, if you follow the above steps, the content you receive should at least be in the ballpark—say, a round of edits or two away from your ideal end product.
If they’re not, don’t be afraid to ask your writer for feedback. Specifically, what do they need to take your content from “good enough” to “out-of-this-world”? If they’re worth the big bucks you’re paying them, they shouldn’t have any problem letting you know.