What to say to clients who want to write their own copy

I recently had an international nonprofit contact me about a brochure to attract more sponsors. “We’ll provide the content,” they said.

Clients who want to write their own copy can pose a problem. Obviously, any designer can design with copy that’s provided by a client.

Yet client copy almost always has the following issues:

  • there’s too much of it
  • it’s not focused
  • it’s not persuasive (and therefore doesn’t work)
  • it’s not visually appealing — it needs smaller paragraphs, lists, subheads, and so forth.

Readers these days expect good copy and scannable copy, whether it’s on the web or on the printed page.

At any rate, this particular client wanted an 8 1/2″ x 11″ brochure, about 4 pages.

In the past, they’ve used a very attractive product, full of facts and figures, charts, and graphs. Attractive enough.

But after scanning the past publication, I saw no heart, no passion, no (the horror!) call to action. They were no doubt revising the brochure because the one I was holding didn’t work.

They told me that the publication was almost always used in person, a “talk along” explained by a representative of the nonprofit. Then it became a leave-behind. Sometimes it was sent out on its own.

So I explained that any company that wants to convince people to do something, especially for a company hoping for millions of dollars in worldwide sponsorships, should really consider letting success happen.

So, what to say to clients who want to write their own copy?

In an effort to offer writers everywhere six ways to convince a company to hire a professional writer, I offer the following questions.

  1. Is the current publication working? Usually they’ll say Well, yes and no.” Some will defend their publication, saying it definitely works. It just needs an update. But ask them how much more success they’d like. 200%? 400%? What kind of money are other companies in their industry attracting through the use of brochures and company representatives. Ask them why they’re revising the brochure if the current one is working.
  2. Can your internal writer deliver heart, passion, calls to action? Professional writers who excel at persuasive writing do so because they’ve been professional writers for years and for many kinds of projects. They’re hired again and again because they succeed.
  3. Does your writer know the several proven ways to engage and keep attention? You create a story that your audience can’t put down, a story that engages from the cover through the end of the publication. No, a corporate publication is not really a story. But it does create images in the minds of its audience. Persuasive images. Images that don’t let go until the audience takes action. A publication becomes, then, a 3D experience — images, text, and the imagination of the reader go to work. Can your internal writer create such an experience?
  4. Do you believe that a publication should stand on its own? Even though you may use this publication as a “talk along” before leaving it behind — a publication should stand on its own. It shouldn’t have to be explained. People’s aural memories are not as strong as their visual memories. People recall virtually 85% of what they see and only 10% to 15% of what they hear. If a leave-behind does not make the same argument on its own that a representative makes in person, it’s not doing its job. Also, a print publication tells the same story every time — it doesn’t forget key points or explain them in a different way each time.
  5. Has your internal writer written a variety of persuasive materials? Someone who can convince large and small corporations to pay attention to a cause has likely written everything from ads to speeches to video scripts. If you have someone on staff with writing credentials but without actual persuasive writing in their portfolio, consider assigning that person as a liaison. The liaison can put together a package with background copy that includes pertinent data, any related information and publications, and whatever else a professional writer may ask for. It can make for a solid start for the writer and an education for the liaison. Still, nothing replaces years of great writing.
  6. Do you believe that it’s OK to pay good money for a product that stands to bring in significantly more sponsorships? If your organization expects to attract millions or tens of thousands of dollars in sponsorships, it’s certainly worth the cost of a professional writer. You’re already paying for professional design. A professional writer will help you strategize your sales potential and bring something special to it. Why not try it and see what professional copy and strategy can do for you?

That’s basically my story. Clients will continue to use tired, worn-out publications that don’t work … until you show them otherwise. They need your guidance. This is your job.

What to say to clients who want to write their own copy

by susan time to read: 3 min

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