I haven’t entirely buried the memory of the first time my copy was reviewed. I was new to marketing, new to B2B technology, and yet – I was still surprised by quite how consistently I’d missed the mark.
It was tough. But eleven years later, I can tell you something that’s even tougher: being the person reading that first draft, adding the comments and tracking the changes.
The fact is, reviewing copy is just as much a skill as writing copy. It’s also one of the most useful skills a marketer can acquire.
Why you should become a brilliant reviewer
Become a better reviewer, and you’ll be able to guide your writers more effectively. This means you’ll have greater control over your messaging, campaigns, and content. More of your ideas will emerge from the long, treacherous tunnel of content creation burning just as brightly as when they entered it.
You’ll also end up working with a better class of writer.
Your reviews will leave sloppy writers with nowhere to hide, and no excuses for doing a substandard job. Before long they’ll either get their act together, or you’ll get frustrated, and get someone else.
At the same time, your reviews will make absolute copywriting pros choose your projects over those of other clients. They’ll love working with you because they see your respect for their craft, and because you give them the direction they need to nail almost every project by v2.
history of reviewing failures long apprenticeship has taught me
(I love how eye-catching this subhead is, Kieran, but it’s a bit too downbeat for the Radix brand voice. Can you tweak it?)
I’ve been reviewing B2B marketing copy for almost as long as I’ve been writing it.
I’ve been the worst kind of reviewer. The reviewer who sacrifices constructive feedback on the altar of an approaching deadline, and ploughs stressfully onwards, frantically reworking someone else’s copy without apology or explanation. Heck, on some days, I am still that reviewer.
But I’m learning to do better. To provide fair, reasoned, instructive, and affirmative feedback. And to practise again, and again, so I can do it at pace.
This is how I approach reviewing today.
I review against the brief
As a marketer, there’s every chance you wrote your copywriter’s brief. Which is ideal – no one’s better placed than you to review their work.
Just remember to check that your goalposts haven’t shifted
since your football left the centre spot.
(Your metaphor is sound, Kieran, but to me it feels a bit over-worked? Also, how well is it going to play with – see what I did there! – our international audience? Just end the sentence at ‘shifted’.)
Professional copywriters understand that a project’s scope can change following the original briefing. A diligent reviewer flags up when this has happened, and explains how the copy needs to be reworked as a result.
By contrast, a careless reviewer doesn’t explain that the project has evolved. This confuses the copywriter (who delivered exactly what they thought was required) and risks damaging the reviewer and copywriter’s working relationship.
And what about when you find yourself in the feedback loop for someone else’s project? Ask them to give you the brief they gave the copywriter. This isn’t just about being a fair critic, it’s about really understanding your colleague’s objectives, and making sure your input pushes the copy closer to where it needs to be, not further away.
If I have to edit something, I explain why
When I find a problem in the copy I’m reviewing, I find it incredibly tempting to fix the issue and move on. But I know that if I do, there’s no guarantee the writer will see the thinking behind my edit. And if they don’t, I’ll find myself correcting the same issue in their next piece of work. And the one after that.
You’d be surprised how easy it is for your writer to misunderstand why you’ve changed their copy, even when the reason seems unspeakably obvious to you.
(I think this is a great point, Kieran. Could you illustrate it with an example?)
For example, let’s say your copywriter has written the following header for a panel on your home page: ‘Cost-effective omnichannel customer experiences’.
Reviewing the copy, you cut the word ‘omnichannel’. Your designers have shared an updated wireframe and you now need this header to be under 40 characters in length. ‘Omnichannel’ is an important message to you, but when push comes to shove, it’s not as important as ‘cost-effective’.
The writer sees your tracked change, but not the reasoning behind it. They think:
- Wait, is the client unhappy talking about omnichannel?
- …Maybe the solution isn’t omnichannel after all??
- …Or maybe the client thinks omnichannel has become table stakes, and doesn’t bear mentioning anymore???
Here’s the golden rule. If you have to edit the copy, do your best to explain your thinking – you’ll be doing yourself and your copywriter a favour.
Whatever the copywriter learns as a result (the priorities of your target audience, the new name of your rebranded product, the vagaries of your house style…) it’ll help them to ace the next project you send. They’ll save time, and ultimately, so will you.
I ask the writer make the change
If your deadlines allow, don’t edit the copy at all. Just comment on what needs changing and why.
3 three compelling reasons why you, as a marketer, should ask your copywriter to make any edits:
(Nice idea to break up the copy with some more bullets, Kieran – just remember we spell out the numbers from one to ten in running copy!)
- The writer probably included at least one round of amends in their quote. (You’re already paying them to do this work.)
- You hired a writer for a reason. If a plumber left your kitchen tap dripping, would you get them back to take another look, or start reaching for your wrench?
- Writers can learn by accepting your changes. But they’ll learn much faster by making those changes themselves.
I reinforce the things I really like
As I hope I’ve established by this point, I think the copy review is an immensely useful tool for content marketers.
Deftly wielded, it allows you to sculpt an all-purpose, fresh-out-of-the-box copywriter into exactly the writer you need – one who understands your brand voice, your house style, your solutions, your audience and your personal bugbears.
And there’s a way to accelerate this transformation.
As well as highlighting any issues you have with your writer’s copy, highlight any aspects that you really like. The deeper their understanding of what makes you happy, the greater the chance they’ll submit a first draft that you can read, sign-off, and send to design.
The eagle-eyed amongst If you’re eagle-eyed, you will have noticed some remnants from the Radix reviewing process have crept their way into the final draft of this very blog post. See how the reviewer has managed to reinforce good ideas and behaviours, even as they call out issues for me to address.)
(It’s a nice turn of phrase, Kieran, but remember there’s only ever one reader at a time. Also: ‘amongst’? Are we in Dickensian London? 😉)
A souvenir of your reading experience
Since you ask me for a bulleted summary…
- Become a brilliant reviewer. It’s worth the effort.
- Review the writer’s copy against the brief they were given.
- Explain what needs to change, but also explain why.
- Ask the writer to make the edits. They’re the pro. Plus they need to learn.
- Reinforce the things you like. That way you’ll see them again.
If you can do all this – ideally with tact, understanding and generosity – you’ll find that your writers need less and less guidance. Even better, you’ll find that each content piece you produce gets closer to the content piece you held in your mind’s eye, before its creation began.