It’s an ugly, terrible fact…
Our copywriting is not perfect on the first draft.
Actually, it’s not perfect on ANY draft, if you want to get real. But at some point it’s good enough to test, launch, and then optimize once you know you’ve got something.
But between that first draft and whatever number it takes to get it out, there’s a dreaded process called REVISIONS.
Dreaded? Because our creative self’s fragile ego wants to believe that we created a masterpiece. And that masterpiece cannot be improved, no matter how you try.
But your fragile ego and your client’s desires do not always see eye-to-eye.
And so you’re often left with a document full of comments, full of recommendations, full of revisions — full of so much red.
What do you do with that? And importantly, when you have made all your changes and you want the client to love your new draft (because it took into account all their comments and recommendations), how do you present that to them?
So many questions.
Below, a few hopefully good answers.
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On to today’s question…
I have a question for you…
I’m an agency copywriter. Been at it for 2 years. One aspect that I’m trying to dial in better is presenting script revisions to clients. Let’s say you deliver a rough draft, receive client feedback, revise it, and hop back on another call to go over changes.
Do you go line-by-line and cover EVERYTHING, down to simple one-word changes? Do you share your screen and have both versions of the script side-by-side so you can visually highlight the changes you made? Do you do a read through before you explain changes or after you explain the changes? Curious to know your process!
We work with mostly enterprise-level companies, so there are (usually) multiple people from the client’s team on the call, and some are more involved than others. So I’m trying to find the best way to communicate the changes that were made.
First things first, I’m in a different situation than you…
For a while, most of my client work has been through an agency. But this agency is a direct response agency. And they’ve basically become the outsourced copy department for our handful of primary clients.
And so even though I work “with an agency” (from home), my dynamic is different.
My copy chief is pretty much the client’s copy chief. They have right of refusal on copy. And they may have compliance or accuracy edits. There’s usually very little voice or stylistic edits the client would ever recommend. Not that it can’t happen. Just by the time we get to them, the copy’s so close to final that they know they’re best mostly keeping their hands off.
Not only that, I have a great working relationship with my copy chief. She and I have known each other for at least 5 years, probably more. Plus she has a great reputation with her clients. The better your relationship, the easier this is. Not because feedback is automatically good when you know someone (she will tear my copy to smithereens). But because it’s clear to me that even when she tells me my copy is terrible, I know she’s not saying I’m terrible, or I’m a terrible copywriter. Just what I’ve written doesn’t work.
So if you want MY process, it’s actually that I give her the new copy with as little context as possible, except using “track changes” in Microsoft Word. With rare exception, the same thing applies when sending through to others at the client business.
A note about “as little context as possible”: I once had a copy chief tell me that I won’t get to explain my copy to the prospect when they see it for the first time. So it’s better if I just send it to the client as an attachment, without context, and let them have a reaction. If I have notes I want to share with them, I can always share AFTER they’ve had a chance to look at the copy. This question is the exception, in that tracking changes digitally makes it easy to see quickly what’s changed and what’s the same as the last time.
So with that let’s dive into some specific advice, adapted to your situation…
Use track changes and comments in Microsoft Word…
Using the track changes functionality is the #1 thing I recommend.
It’s easy to do. It’s easy to review. It also makes going back to the original an easier process, if the edits don’t work. It’s just a good practice and you should always do it for revisions.
Oh, and it’s available in Google Docs, Pages for Mac, and other word processing applications as well. Just look up how to do it for whatever you use.
If you’re not working in a word processor, I think you do need to somehow note the specific changes. What is changed should be the main thing. Responses to comments can be appropriate. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for the client to see what you changed.
About comments: I sometimes disagree with client recommendations. I use sidebar comments as a way to respond to them. I try to be as logical and well-reasoned as possible in my response, explaining why my way is superior. And I’ll provide justification in the form of whatever proof I can muster. Plus, I’ll always maintain the attitude that we can do a market test of their idea versus mine, and that in the end if they’re paying me on a work-for-hire basis, it’s their copy to screw up as they see fit.
But what if you are unsure about disagreeing with the client?
Work with good clients who respect your expertise…
This is HUGE. It’s hard to think of one thing that’s been more conducive to enjoying my work than this.
When you establish yourself as an expert and find clients that respect that expertise, you will find this whole process goes more smoothly.
I know in an agency situation, this isn’t always 100% in your control.
But your agency should have the respect of clients. And you should inherit that respect, because of your relationship with the agency.
If there’s a breakdown of respect at any point in the chain, it will fill this entire process with friction. In which case you need to be creating an exit plan.
Either way, this whole thing works so much better if you’re on the same team, working with a good client, rather than it feeling like an us-versus-them situation.
A call should not be necessary — but if it is, you should run it…
Here’s the thing. I’m way more likely to get on the phone with a client after they’ve sent me comments, than after I’ve sent them revisions.
Again, the copy should be self-explanatory.
They should understand that the copy stands on its own. Or at least it will when it hits the market. So they should treat it like that until then.
I understand you’re dealing with a bunch of decision makers, or at least stakeholders. Committees make terrible copy chiefs.
If they insist on the call, here’s what you need to do. You need to establish up front that the call is NOT a feedback call. The purpose of the call is not to have unstructured feedback time. (The only exception here would be a formalized copy review process, as described in Copy Logic.)
The purpose of the call is for you to present the changes. And if they want to give you feedback, that needs to be a separate call after they’ve had at least 24 hours to digest the changes and make notes.
That said, even letting a committee on ANY call is probably a mistake. And yes, there is a better way.
Make them pick your single point of contact…
This is largely what happens with my client, the copy chief whose agency works for a mix of clients.
She is the single point of contact to gather all feedback, from all relevant stakeholders. And she will often ask them to even do that work for her.
This forces them to work out their disagreements beforehand. And avoids you getting stuck in the middle of head-butting between coworkers at the agency business.
Make them do that work. Make them come to an agreement of what they’re combined feedback is.
Then, make your single point of contact be the only one on the phone with you to present the feedback.
I know, it may feel like, “but I can’t do that.”
But the more you practice and exercise control over your clients, especially through non-copy elements like this, the more respect you’ll get and the smoother all projects will go.
Get people on your side to join the call…
This is especially important if they insist on bringing a team.
Get your account manager on the line. Trade favors with other copywriters in the agency, supporting each other on client calls. Get the designer on board. Or anyone else whose opinion and experience can support yours.
If the client insists on the counter-productive “copy-by-committee” approach, at least try not to be outnumbered.
The more voices you can bring to the table in support of your copy, the better.
Also, I’ll note that this is what my copy chief and I do. We’ve discussed all revisions one-on-one before taking them to the client. So if there are any questions or issues, we’re on the same page before the client has a chance to give feedback. Doesn’t mean we won’t be flexible. But it does make it easier if we end up disagreeing.
Work out your shame and rejection issues…
This is probably the biggest thing, at the root of this whole question, and what you didn’t know or didn’t want to admit.
We all deal with shame and rejection issues. Unless we have some serious mental illness.
What we don’t realize is how those manifest in many different areas.
If you’re afraid of rejection, you’ll be spewing off subtle cues at every point in the feedback and revision process.
If the client gets you on a call, they’ll eat you alive.
And you’ll cower before them, because you’re too afraid of getting rejected.
Consider the book When I Say No, I Feel Guilty as a start. It will teach you assertiveness and standing your ground. Which will apply here as much as anywhere else in your life.
Another similar book, directed at men but perhaps relevant to all, is No More Mr. Nice Guy. It’s popular in the dating space, but the core lesson is just as relevant here. And I’ll note, it’s about dropping “nice” in favor of “good, kind, strong” and not about becoming a jerk.
And finally I’ll add a recommendation for Healing the Shame that Binds You. It’s another perspective and more reinforcement along these same lines. Which, if you’re dealing with this, you’ll need all the reinforcement you can get.
When you finally consider yourself “good enough” to have your own way, to trust your own expertise, to respect yourself, to stand up for what you believe, the tactics will fall away and this will become much easier. (My video from last week on Unstoppable Confidence is another good resource.)
Part of that comes with experience. But a large part of it can be accelerated with the help of others who’ve overcome shame and rejection and are now sharing their experience.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,