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Thursday, 14 October 2010

Getting the Best Work from a Freelance Copywriter

As a marketing communications or public relations manager, you may work with freelance or agency copywriters. Some of these relationships are likely to be very smooth and synergistic, while others may be frustrating or challenging for both you and the writer. You want to know:

"How can I choose the best writer for a project?"

"How can I improve the working relationship with writers?"

And, "How can I get the best work from a copywriter, from first draft to final edit?"

Read on for guidelines that will help you choose the right freelance writer for your project and create a positive, collaborative, and fruitful working relationship.

Selecting a Freelance Writer

Before evaluating potential writers, identify what you want from a writer and what your projects need. For example, do you need someone to handle just the writing, or someone who is more of a communications strategist? Do you need a project manager who can handle all aspects from planning and writing to design and production? All of these roles involve very different skill sets.

If you have determined that you truly need a freelance copywriter, consider the style and content demands of your projects. Do they require a high level of creativity, such as a cutting-edge advertising campaign? Or do the projects involve more of a technical or formal corporate style? Different projects require a different mind-set of the writer, and not every writer can produce good work in every style. Indeed, many copywriters focus their work on certain types of projects, industries, or media.

As a manager, you probably won't be able to find just one writer who can handle all projects. Instead, you will likely work with several writers: one who handles brochures and articles, another who writes presentation scripts and speeches, yet another who writes direct-mail materials. Although these multiple relationships require more time to develop and manage, you'll benefit from the higher quality of work that specialist writers can deliver. And, when launching a new communications program, you'll appreciate having multiple resources who can develop several projects simultaneously.

Factors to consider when selecting a freelance copywriter include the following:

Skill level and orientation. Does the project require a writer with extensive experience? Should the writer have an analytical or creative orientation?

Knowledge. In-depth knowledge of the subject matter may be paramount for a project because it would require too much time and effort to train a new writer. For example, technology knowledge is especially important for projects that promote a high-tech product or service. In other cases, it may be important for the writer to be very familiar with the audience you're trying to reach.

Strategy and planning skills. Project management or program planning skills may play a part in identifying the best resources for the project.

People skills. Consider a writer's interpersonal skills, because it is very likely the writer will interact with customers or community members, journalists, executives, subject experts and of course, your marketing and PR colleagues.

Tools knowledge and skills. If the writer must work with particular software, content management systems, or other tools, specify your requirements.

Experience in particular media. The skills needed for Web content or electronic media projects are somewhat different than those required for print materials.

Reviewing Portfolios and Samples

When you have a candidate in mind, typically the next step is to conduct an in-person or telephone interview and review the candidate's portfolio. The following factors will help you make a better assessment of the candidate's writing skills when evaluating samples:

Are the materials similar to your projects?

Are the style and tone in the samples similar to those of your projects?

Is the depth and complexity of content comparable to that in your projects?

Is the text well organized, readable, and free of errors? Even if you have no knowledge of the subject matter in the sample, you should be able to get a sense very quickly whether the writer can produce clear, interesting, and correct copy.

What was the writer's actual involvement in the project?

Sustaining the Relationship

Once you have found the right freelance writer, you can benefit from cultivating a sustained relationship. First, consider freelancers not only for new projects that come up, but also recurring projects such as newsletters that always seem to be "lost in the shuffle" of more immediate tasks and deadlines.

Develop a writer's subject focus--such as technologies, issues, audiences--and leverage that focus over multiple different projects.

Give the writer new types of projects as a way to maximize your investment in the writer's knowledge. For example, a writer who has not previously written a video script, but who knows your products and company, may be a better choice that an experienced scriptwriter who lacks that knowledge.

When working with a freelance copywriter, remember to send samples of the published work. It's both a courtesy and a way for the writer to learn from any changes that were made between the final draft and published document. Most of all, when you choose the right freelance copywriter, you can look forward to a long, positive collaboration and great materials!

Copyright(c)2007, Janice M. King. All rights reserved; used by permission. Janice is an award-winning freelance copywriter who helps technology companies around the world produce clear, compelling sales and PR materials. Her latest book, Copywriting That Sells High Tech, has been called "a superb guide to great copy for any technology-based product or service." Learn about Janice and her work, and find many valuable resources for high-tech marketing at:


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