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Why high-level executives should be kept away from content writing

Senior executive marking up copy

I feel the need to shed light on a reason that so much of the copywriting we publish is just adequate, rather than brilliant. This is based on my experiences over the course of an 11-year career in marketing and PR where I've written countless press releases, web pages, brochures, flyers and feature articles. They have not all been as brilliant as I'd have hoped, and I believe that - in some part - this is due to the involvement of senior management.

*As a disclaimer, I mean no disrespect to any senior managers or executive board members reading this - you do an incredibly difficult job and have a lot on your respective plates. I'd be quite interested to hear your comments below.

You have just written a wonderful piece of email copy to launch an exciting new product. The calls to action are tight and draw the eye, the descriptive copy is focussed on the benefits and the tone of voice is spot on. You have even developed three different subject lines for testing.

But, before you can create the campaign in your beautifully designed email template, the copy needs to be approved. In some organisations, this may only require one person, a few amends and you're good to go. In most, you'll need approval from multiple layers of management. At this point, you take a copy of the draft to save for later, knowing full well that it will never be published in this pure state. I can hear your heart breaking already!

To be fair, it is important to have senior-level buy-in for content marketing strategies. However, I believe that they should not be consulted on copy for a few, simple reasons:

1. They don't appreciate that 'less is more': we understand that they are passionate about the business, but although they have a huge amount to say about it, it's not always what the audience want (or need) to hear.

There is a plethora of research showing that concise messages are easier to digest and are better at encouraging customer action. However, your executive directors will be convinced that the customer needs to know everything about your organisation at the very beginning.

They don't.

The most difficult part of this is trying to diplomatically say that you want to get rid of those extra 200 words they've added in because the audience doesn't care.

2. They aren't experienced in writing using the correct tone of voice: despite your well-crafted style guide. This can be a clincher when it comes to converting readers to take action on your site or email.

As your executive director insists on extra words, they will also insist you implement their exact copy changes, which so often run against the organisation's voice. They want it to resonate with them, rather than the audience. This can be a big problem if you are marketing to 18 to 24 year-olds and your board has an average age of 50. This dilutes your message, and inevitably your brand.

3. They are focussed on business objectives, not audience objectives: and this is the difference between adequate, informative (read: boring) copy, and copy that really resonates with your market.

While executive directors believe they know the customer inside out (and, to be fair, some do), their seniority means that they are often too removed from the customer, and are completely focussed on meeting business objectives. If you aren't careful, your audience will know from your copy when you are using business jargon, when you are 'selling' to them, and when you have objectives to meet - and this doesn't interest them.

4. We are the copy guardians

Yes, these points may seem harsh, yet I'm sure not they're not surprising. I am someone who believes very strongly that copywriters and marketers should be working for the customer. Copywriters are closest to the customer, and possess the best insights and experience so they should be left to do what they do best - produce engaging content that connects with the market.

In the next post, I will balance this argument by looking at why high-level executives should be involved in the copywriting process.

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