Part II: Experience is the Enemy of Corporate Writers

August 12, 2010  |   Posted by :   |   Copywriting,Corporate Messaging,Corporate Writing,Slideshow   |   6 Comments»

Recently, I claimed that placing too much value on industry experience can do a corporate writer more harm than good. And I called into question the practice of some companies that hire corporate writers based solely on industry experience.

Which begs the question: How much experience is enough? Is a corporate writer with five years experience in financial services more valuable than a writer who has only four? Is a copywriter with 15 years of experience in a particular industry more marketable than someone who has a mere 13?

I’ve been a financial services writer since 1982. Is my 28 years “in the trenches” more valuable than someone who has only been around for a decade or so?

Don’t get me wrong: Industry experience is invaluable to both a corporate writer and the client who hires her. In corporate-speak, experience enables you to “hit the ground running” because of a “shorter learning curve.”

Clients love that. They generally don’t have the time or inclination to train you. (In corporate-speak: “Get you up to speed.”)

Better to hire someone who knows industry basics–so that the corporate writer can spend the majority of her time applying those basics to the client’s particular marketing issue.

But here’s my argument: Relying too much on “insider knowledge” can make a corporate writer and her client myopic. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of working from assumptions, based on past experience. There’s risk that you’ll miss a key, currently relevant point that might “stand your assumption on its head.”

Far better to temper experience with an objective, analytical process that ensures currently relevant ideas and trends are incorporated into your thinking.

Namely, a Corporate Messaging Platform. Following such a framework ensures that a corporate writer will do the hard work, think a marketing problem all the way through and find the simple answer at the end.

Sure, industry experience would help you make better decisions through this process. And in a “perfect world,” you’d combine both experience and the objectivity and discipline of messaging strategy.

But if I had to choose one over the other, I’d choose messaging strategy every time. With no industry experience whatsoever. Yes, there would be an industry learning curve. But the process of creating a Corporate Messaging Platform would shorten it. And, the “end deliverable” would be more effective.

Footnote: Why all the corporate-speak in this article? To illustrate a point: Corporate-speak is a substitute for true thinking. Just as industry experience is a substitute for true skill in finding the simple answer. The one that can only come from doing the hard work, without taking shortcuts.

Or worse, making the faulty assumption that–based on experience–what worked in the past will work today.

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6 Comments for this entry

  • Sara Thurston

    August 12th, 2010 on 9:32 am

    Wow, do you make an excellent point! I’ve seen this myopia both in my agency positions and working in corporations. I was hired by a corporation precisely because I didn’t have financial writing experience — along with other “newbies,” I was able to bring fresh new thinking and a more edgy style that actually resonated with readers.

    Funny, I mentioned this same thing in my blog — I should link yours to mine 🙂

    http://wp.me/pIwZa-U

  • Andy Bartling

    August 12th, 2010 on 10:34 am

    Sarah,

    Let’s do link our sites together. The ‘myopia of experience’ that we’re both speaking of is rampant. And by exposing it–and its negative effects–perhaps we can begin to show clients a better, more effective way to make hiring decisions.

  • Andy Bartling

    August 12th, 2010 on 2:09 pm

    Corporate Writer Insider note: Here’s a comment from Linked In’s Freelance Professionals group:

    “Agreed. Writers and Editors who possess a versatile portfolio also possess broader insight… therefore are capable of reaching a broader market.”

  • Mel Collins

    August 13th, 2010 on 5:20 pm

    Andy,

    Seems to me that a corporate type would get the message…. diverse backgrounds deliver more diverse copy…

  • Sara Thurston

    August 14th, 2010 on 10:48 am

    I added the link — thanks!

  • Beverly Bergman

    September 14th, 2010 on 1:42 pm

    I think you have made a great case for not using in-house writers for everything. Someone who is still in touch with consumers “outside the bubble” will have a fresh perspective to offer.

    There is a lot to be said for sticking to a coporate messaging program, and with one in place, an outside writer with some industry knowledge should be able to lend some creative thought — something that is more likely to be noticed and acted upon.