Let me tell you a story.
I’m a copywriter. Most of the time I work directly with a business owner or a marketing manager.
But sometimes I work with agencies that outsource their content creation to copywriters like me.
Recently, I spoke with a prospective client – a woman who owns her own marketing agency.
I’ll call her Beth.
Beth helps other businesses differentiate themselves in a crowded market. One would think she understands the value of high-quality copywriting.
Beth contacted me and asked for a quote regarding blog posts and a white paper.
In Beth’s case, I knew she was price-sensitive. She had mentioned it before in a previous email exchange we had a few weeks ago. So I offered a 25% discount, plus an extra service for social media promotion.
Unfortunately, she rejected my quote.
Instead, Beth was either unwilling or unable to invest in quality copywriting. For instance, she expected to pay 60% less than the average fee for a blog post.
Yes. You read that right. Sixty per cent.
And for a white paper, she wanted to pay only seventy-five per cent of the average market rate for what is considered by copywriters as the most complex marketing project they can write.
I’m not sure what is going on in the minds of some agency owners. Yes, writers understand the need for markup. But 60% – 75%?
Copywriters often give agencies a discount. Since the copywriter didn’t have to do the hard work of client acquisition (and client relations), they often offer a 20% discount on their services. This is more than reasonable given the value a good copywriter will bring to a client’s project.
And value is the operative word, here.
However, I would like to make the case for why it’s usually a better idea to work directly with a freelance copywriter rather than outsource content creation to a marketing agency.
I do want to mention that there are some marketing agencies who are fantastic when it comes to developing original content. I’m working with one, in particular. But I still maintain the 80/20 Rule when it comes to agency work – about 20% create outstanding content and 80% will churn out average or mediocre work.
Here are 10 reasons why a business owner should think twice when vetting a marketing agency for developing their marketing copy. Again, I’m addressing around 80% of the agencies with this list:
#1 – When Agencies Pay Low Fees, It Produces Rushed Work
This is one of the biggest risks you take when you hire an agency that outsources the project to a copywriter at rock-bottom pricing.
I religiously track the time for my projects. Quality copywriting doesn’t just appear out of thin air. Many factors contribute to a solid piece of work.
For instance, here is what typically goes into all my projects:
- Communication (email, phone calls, Skype meetings)
- Research (target market, product/service, competitor sites, industry)
- Review of a client’s past and current marketing collateral
- Concepting, ideation, and strategy
- Promotion (if part of the project scope)
As you can see, a great deal of thought and effort goes into creating a writing project that will get results.
But if an agency insists on paying the lowest fee, I guarantee you the copywriter will cut corners and write fast.
They won’t take the time to do the extra work to ensure the project has a unique voice. Ultimately, this won’t achieve the client’s marketing goals.
The writer will simply rush through the project and crank out copy as fast as possible – which may include clunky sentences, grammatical errors, and typos. Not exactly the type of writing that will present the client’s products and services in the best light.
#2: When Agencies Pay Low Fees, They Often Get Template Copy
When agencies pay a copywriter a low fee, not only are they going to rush their writing, they’ll likely use re-hashed copy.
Eugene Schwartz, author of Breakthrough Advertising and considered one of the most brilliant copywriters of the twentieth century said this:
“Number one, copy is not written. If anyone tells you ‘you write copy,’ sneer at them. Copy is not written. Copy is assembled. You do not write copy. You assemble it. You are working with a series of building blocks, and you are putting the building blocks together, and then you are putting them in certain structures. You are building a little city of desire for your person to come and live in.”
Those “building blocks” are the various pieces of information a copywriter will find as they do the proper amount of research.
But if an agency doesn’t want to either pay the copywriter for her time, those “building blocks” won’t exist. The only way a copywriter will be able to write for such a low fee is if they don’t spend the time discovering those critical “building blocks” in order to create a truly memorable piece.
Instead, they’ll rush through the writing project by using half-baked ideas and plenty of fluff.
#3: When Agencies Pay Low Fees, the Content Gets Low Reach/Impressions
Average or mediocre content will ultimately cost an agency by failing to market their client’s products or services effectively.
The trend in content marketing right now is long-form content. Articles that are shared more often are between 1,500 – 2,500 words. Some are over 3,000.
It takes a lot of time and organizational thought to create such a lengthy piece of content.
Paying a low fee will result in receiving content that is mediocre at best or boring at worse. Either way, the client isn’t going to get much traction from it because no one shares boring or mediocre content – which ultimately will affect the client’s website traffic flow.
And that’s why you hire an agency, isn’t it? To get results. To get traffic flowing to your website. To get referrals and to get noticed.
But no one cares about content or copy that is average.
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#4 – U.S. Business Owners Lose When Copy Is Written by a Non-Native English Speaker
When agencies outsource their writing, they often use non-native English speakers from other countries.
I know copywriters from both Australia and the U.K. who are brilliant. However, they command higher fees, too.
The type of non-native English speakers I’m referring to are those who live in countries where English is a second language. As a result, they often do not have a firm grasp on the English language, its idioms, or phrasing.
There have been many times when clients have hired me to “fix” copy that was written by such writers. Sure, the client thought initially she was getting a great deal, but in the long run, it was an extra investment that could have been avoided if the client had hired a native English speaker from the start.
Copywriters from underdeveloped countries are known for their low fees. One quick glance at their copy, though, usually provides ample proof as to why hiring them would be a bad decision for the client.
#5 – Business Owners Lose When Copy Is Not Aligned With the Brand
Years ago, an agency outsourced a blog post for their client’s new website.
However, there was a problem.
The agency hadn’t fully developed the brand – which meant the blog post lacked a voice.
“Voice” or “tone of voice” is how marketers refer to the feel of the written marketing asset. For instance, if you want to be seen as a “Trusted Adviser,” the tone of voice would be authoritative and knowledgeable.
If your brand was that of the “Magician,” your voice would likely be inspirational and promote wonder.
It was rather surprising to me that the agency wasn’t helping their client identify their brand archetype, which in turn would direct the tone of the writing. Because of this, my blog post didn’t have much to go on regarding brand messaging. Not surprisingly, it was rather unremarkable.
I remember feeling frustrated by the whole experience. The agency’s client wasn’t happy, either and the project was dropped.
When you work with a copywriter who understands marketing principles, you’ll have a much better chance getting the kind of effective asset you want. Unfortunately, some agencies are either too busy or someone on the team has dropped the ball when it comes to helping the client identify their brand.
Make sure that whoever you work with regarding your copy also understands your brand’s message. It truly is the difference between creating average copy and extraordinary copy.
#6 – Business Owners Lose When Copy Is Written By an Unskilled Copywriter
Allow me to clarify the landscape of copywriters for hire.
You have several types:
- Those who have an English Lit degree and call themselves a “wordsmith.” They love to write and want to make everything into The Great American Novel (because that’s what they’re working on when they’re not writing your copy).
- Those who got into copywriting because they believed it was “easy money” and if “they could write a simple letter, they could become a copywriter.”
- Those who absolutely love sales, love buyer psychology, and love marketing. They also have an insatiable curiosity that allows them to dig deep into the product/service’s most appealing attraction for a target market. They find the “why.”
- Those who write because it’s part of their job description but secretly want to be an actor. However, they have to make money somehow so copywriting will do.
If I were a business owner, I’d choose A or C. Avoid B and D.
I only know one copywriter who falls into the D category. He’s very talented but also a very talented actor. I have no doubt that if he ever lands a great acting gig in a sitcom or film, he’ll quit his keyboard for good.
If an agency decides to handle your writing “in house,” that means someone on the team will be writing your copy.
And there is a very good chance they haven’t put in nearly as much time honing their craft as someone who is a full-time copywriter.
They simply haven’t worked as hard to master the skills that dedicated copywriters have done.
I’ve belonged to a few copywriting communities over the past five years. Copywriters are known to “geek out” over swipe files and copywriting giants such as Gene Schwartz, Gary Halbert, Bill Jayme, Dan Kennedy, Kim Krause-Schwalm, Lorrie Morgan-Ferraro, Parris Lampropoulos, Carline Anglade-Cole, and David Deutsch. They also follow modern marketers like Todd Brown, Ben Settle, and André Chaperon.
In other words, the copywriters I know take a lot of pride in improving their skill. They invest a great deal of money in training programs, books, and conferences. It’s all to achieve that magical goal — copy that “converts,” or in other words – delivering the results you want.
If I had to place my bet, I’d say the statistics of achieving success with your copy would fall in the camp of the dedicated copywriters. Not the in-house agency copywriter who is juggling at least ten other responsibilities at the same time she’s trying to be “creative” with your copy.
#7 – Business Owners Lose When a Writer Doesn’t Understand How to Build a Case for Your Product/Service
I’m getting into the “sausage-making” area of copywriting, but here’s the deal: business copy should make the case for buying the product/service. Or at the very least, make the case for examining the business more closely.
This is why copywriting is called “salesmanship in print.” It’s because good copy… copy that will actually persuade your reader to take action… requires a specific approach.
Imagine the door-to-door salesman. He knocks on the door, you open it and he’s off and running with his script.
Whatever objections you might have, he’s ready with an answer. Whatever reason you have for waiting to purchase his wares, he’s got a great comeback.
Before you know it, you’ve bought his product and as you’re closing the door, you wonder what on earth just happened.
You just got sold by a master sales person.
This is what a sales page on your website is meant to do.
It is very, very difficult to take someone who has never heard of your business and sell them on the spot. Rarely do those types of decisions happen unless you get lucky and find someone who has a particular itch and you’ve got just the right back scratcher.
A good copywriter will know how to hook a prospect, get her to read more about your company, and then tell them what they need to do next so you can make the sale.
#8 – Business Owners Lose When a Writer Doesn’t Understand “The One Rule”
This is one of the toughest tasks a non-copywriter/writer will tackle.
And most of them royally jack it up.
I’m including myself in that category. It’s why good copywriters will pass their work to other seasoned writers for a critique.
“The One Rule” is simply this: You want to your copy to direct the reader to one inevitable response.
You want your copy to stir one emotion.
You want it to emphasize one good idea.
And you want it to tell one captivating story.
Many times, a business will try to shoehorn everything and the kitchen sink into their website. One web page after another is clogged up with several promises or a mixed bag of features and benefits.
Not only does this pertain to your website copy, but for all of your marketing assets – case studies, special reports, white papers, blog posts, videos, podcasts, sales sheets, and more.
When you present your reader with too many choices, it confuses them. And a confused mind never buys.
That is why you need to keep things simple.
Your product or service might achieve everything from A – Z. But your writer can’t (or shouldn’t) try to detail all of them in your marketing collateral.
Instead, a good copywriter will find the ONE thing that a prospective customer or client needs or wants more than anything else – and then focus on that within the copy.
Many agency writers don’t understand “The One Rule” and few execute it properly. But a good copywriter will know. She’ll ask you a lot of questions in order to find “The One” message that will resonate with your reader and persuade them to take action.
#9 – Business Owners Lose When a Writer Doesn’t Create a “Big Idea” for the Copy
What is a “Big Idea?”
I’ll use David Ogilvy’s definition. Ogilvy was a famous advertising tycoon in the 1950’s, founder of Ogilvy & Mather, and known as the father of advertising. His advertising agency handled accounts for Rolls Royce, Dove, Shell, Hathaway, and Schweppe’s.
Here is what David Ogilvy says about the Big Idea:
“You will never win fame and fortune unless you invent big ideas. It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product. Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.
“Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science, and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process.”
Ogilvy also explains how to recognize the big ideas of others.
And by the way, this is a great way to test your own ideas. Ask yourself these five questions:
- Did it make me gasp when I first saw it?
- Do I wish I had thought of it myself?
- Is it unique?
- Does it fit the strategy to perfection?
- Could it be used for 30 years?
Big Ideas are tough to find. Even Ogilvy said that in his long career as a copywriter, he didn’t have more than 20 of them.
The reason they’re so rare is that a Big Idea comes from the unconscious. However, your unconscious mind has to be well-informed or your idea will be irrelevant.
The trick (which many good copywriters know about but is very difficult to get from an in-house agency writer), is to fill the conscious mind with information then unhook your rational thought process.
The best way to “unhook” your brain is by doing things such as taking a walk, taking a long, hot bath. Or drinking a glass of Burgundy while listening to Wynton Marsalis.
The point is that our brains don’t think of Big Ideas until we relax and give it some room to breathe.
That is a very difficult task for most writers, especially those who are required to sit in some office cubicle for a solid eight hours (which is why I have turned down writing jobs that require my presence daily in some office building).
Big Ideas almost never appear when one is staring at a computer screen.
#10 – Business Owners Lose When a Writer Doesn’t Understand the Power of Emotional Copy
Finally, many business owners don’t realize the truth about why people buy.
People buy with their heart and justify it with their mind.
A business will typically focus only on the latter part of that equation. They load up their marketing copy with facts and statistics. Then they forget to find the one emotional trigger that will cause a buyer to take a second look.
The principle of using emotional copy works just as well for a B2B company as a B2C one. In fact, using emotional copy in a strategic way will differentiate a B2B company from its competition – simply because few of their competitors are unlikely to utilize emotions in their marketing.
Good copywriters will invest a lot of time in determining the right emotional “trigger” to use in a client’s marketing copy. They also know how to connect those emotions to a client’s solution.
But if an agency outsources a client’s copywriting to a low-fee writer, I can almost guarantee you that you won’t get solid emotional copy. You’ll get average copy that is dry and won’t provoke a response from your reader.
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Agencies Fail to See the Big Picture
What surprises me is that agencies ‒ who insist on paying low fees to outsource certain parts of their client projects ‒ don’t see the bigger picture. And a “bigger picture” is supposed to be their specialty.
They’re not playing the long game. They’re playing a short game that is risky.
Sure, an agency may save a few bucks on outsourcing their writing – but at what cost? The client isn’t going to get the results they paid for and consequentially, the agency may end up losing the client.
Copywriters who charge low fees usually aren’t putting in the time to perfect their writing or their understanding of buyer psychology. They’re not testing their ideas or consulting with other copywriters. And they’re probably not attending conferences or improving their “copy game.”
This is what happens when an agency outsources their writing or tries to take it “in house” with one of their overburdened employees.
They shortchange the client and ultimately, short-change their agency’s potential for success.
The Rewards of Fairness
Most of the copywriters I know are very hard workers when it comes to their craft. They are constantly honing their skills by investing in books, training, and attending conferences. I’ve invested more than $20,000 over the past five years on my own development.
When copywriters are in a constant “learning” mode, they are eager to put into action everything they’ve learned. It’s not unusual for copywriters to give extra value to their clients by recommending certain marketing strategies or by offering more than what was defined in a creative brief.
When an agency treats a copywriter fairly, they get a greater return on their investment. Copywriters who are treated well will put you on the top of their list when you request their services. They’ll go the extra mile, even if it means working late at night in order to deliver the final product.
Ultimately, the agency that is most successful sees freelance copywriters as partners. They understand how important quality is because the project will not only reflect upon the copywriter’s ability to deliver the goods – but the agency’s ability to fulfill its promises to their client.
Business Owners: Consider How You Outsource Your Copywriting
If you own a business, should you outsource your writing to a copywriter who charges a low fee? Or use an agency that will likely use a low-fee contractor?
Or should you hire a copywriter who offers better quality and receive a more thorough treatment of your project?
If you want the greatest value from your investment, you would be wise to consider outsourcing your marketing copy to a professional – someone who not only writes for a living but understands the current marketing trends that will grow your business.
The old adage, “You get what you pay for” holds true. A good copywriter will not only have the skills and talent to write your copy, they’ll understand marketing strategy.
Content Creation: The Future of Marketing for Business Owners
Content creation is one of the most involved aspects of running a marketing agency. It’s hard to create content that will capture the attention of your target market. There are some decent agencies who do it well, but many who don’t. Because I’ve heard the stories of how companies were disappointed by the quality of copy they received, I realized I needed to share some truths.
If you do delegate your business writing to an agency, ask about their writers. Are they in-house or outsourced overseas?
Ask that the writer is included in your initial conference calls. Usually, the agency doesn’t allow an outsourced writer to have access to the client, but it can be helpful when defining your expectations. Many times, an agency client is unhappy with the final product – yet it could have been avoided with a few preliminary meetings where questions could have been answered and benchmarks identified.
Ultimately, you’re in charge of your marketing. Make sure you choose the right partners to get the results you want. In a highly competitive economy, you don’t want to waste your time. Or money.