Why Writing is the Last Thing A Corporate Writer Should Do

August 23, 2010  |   Posted by :   |   Copywriting,Corporate Messaging,Corporate Writing,Slideshow   |   12 Comments»

Funny thing about strong copywriters: They can tell a good story–even when there isn’t one to tell.

In years past, I’ve been guilty of this myself: writing copy without a messaging strategy in place first. As a result, I was trying to solve two very different problems at the same time–not only what to say, but also how to say it. In my experience:

  1. Messaging is what to say. This is your story.
  2. Copywriting is how to say it. In other words, how you tell your story.

Granted, it’s not impossible to solve both at the same time. The real question is, should you? (This assumes that you believe in the value of making the distinction between messaging and copywriting in the first place.)

I’ve found that the most effective copy springs from a Corporate Messaging Platform that answers, Why choose me over any of my competitors? The platform customizes that answer for every audience.

So a corporate writer always know what to say to whom–before ever touching a keyboard. The copywriter never starts from scratch, which saves as much as 30% of time and effort (not to mention money, if hard-cost outsourcing is involved).

Best of all, a Corporate Messaging Platform is objective, void of the persuasive skills of a good copywriter. Don’t get me wrong: The platform’s content must be compelling (otherwise, you don’t have a story worth telling). But–and here’s the critical distinction–the platform’s content is not embellished.

The story you’re about to tell should be strong enough to stand on its own, before you write the first word of actual copy. Then, your copywriting skills can only make a good story even better.

My advice? Always develop your messaging strategy first–and write copy second. And use this one-two combination to knock your competition out of the competition.

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11 Comments for this entry

  • Mark Laporta

    August 23rd, 2010 on 4:57 pm

    Thanks for spelling this out so clearly. It’s a “message” that can’t be repeated often enough. I agree: Writing “up” from a well-conceived platform is generally the best approach.

    On the other hand, one of the qualities of a great platform is its ability to create opportunities for compelling elaboration. A good writer can always “decorate” effectively, but what’s needed is a platform that allows for expansion and elaboration over the course of months, even years.

    So while it’s useful and convenient to talk about “messaging” vs. “writing,” in reality the two exist as a continuum, the one generating, reinforcing and elaborating the other at all times.

  • Mark McClure

    August 23rd, 2010 on 8:11 pm

    Andy, in your post,this is key IMO:
    “Why choose me over any of my competitors? ”

    It takes time, effort and persistence to unearth the various answers to that question…and even for the same company they will vary somewhat depending on product/solution and target audience.

  • Andy Bartling

    August 23rd, 2010 on 8:53 pm

    Mark,

    I always say that the hardest work of all is finding the simple answer to a marketing problem. You have to think that problem through all the way to its natural end. Where it’s stripped clean of junk thinking or copy embellishments. If that answer can stand alone, on its own merits, then it meets the criteria of being both relevant and differentiated. And a brand position is born.

    Thanks for your comments, Mark.

  • Andy Bartling

    August 24th, 2010 on 10:55 am

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

    “Great article, Andy. I’ve always called this a ladder of purpose. Everything needs to logically step down from a strong messaging platform, which ultimately is derived from a company’s mission. As freelancers, we are forever challenged by execs who let messaging live only in their heads instead of proclaimed as a published plan. We learn this the hard way from rewrite after rewrite, while the exec has you formulate the messaging that already should be available.”

  • DeLona Lang Bell

    August 24th, 2010 on 12:02 pm

    Wise thoughts, well written. Thanks.

  • Andy Bartling

    August 24th, 2010 on 12:56 pm

    Here’s the voice of experience, from Linked In’s Freelance Professionals group:

    “Amen, Andy. Anytime I’ve ever tried to short-change this part of the process, it’s caused lots of grief down the road. This is a great article that every copywriter should read!”

  • Andy Bartling

    August 24th, 2010 on 1:31 pm

    Corporate Writer Insider note: A new comment from Linked In’s Freelance Professionals group:

    “I always ask for the communications, marketing or even business plan, because, in theory, it should be in there. If it is, you’ve got guidance; if it’s not, try to find a way to become the consultant they hire to put it in the plan. Every job is parallel: do what the company needs while you look for what the company needs. Then find a way to show them that you can fulfill it. Look, I tell clients, if you don’t have a messaging strategy that your communicators follow, you run the risk of confusing your audience. Once you do that, you lose trust. Once you lose trust, you lose money.”

  • Paul Zink

    August 24th, 2010 on 7:35 pm

    You’re spot on. With a well conceived strategy and message platform, the copy will practically write itself, because you’ve already written it in your head whilst working out the afore-mentioned.

  • Tracey Dooley

    August 25th, 2010 on 6:03 am

    Great post, Andy.

    I use something similar, depending on the project. I have heard it being compared to an artist roughing in a scene with his pencil; a picture slowly takes shape, and you get a clearer picture of how his canvas is going to look when he’s finished.

  • Michelle Bashan

    August 26th, 2010 on 2:42 am

    Thanks Andy – I really enjoy reading my own thoughts in your words, as well as learn so much more.

    I have only been in the business for 4 years, and when i read what you say about things that i think of myself, i figure i must be on the right track. Thanks so much for your ‘help and support’.

  • Andy Bartling

    September 7th, 2010 on 7:49 am

    Corporate Writer Insider note: Here’s a comment from Linked In’s Medical Marketing and Communications group:

    “Simply right. It is like planning tactics without a strategy. Messaging is usually overlooked or over-engineered. Can the lone writer take on the corporation mind(less)set? “

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