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From the Trenches

The Content Creator’s Guide to Repairing Troubled Copy

Yvonne Lyons | March 27, 2014
The Content Creator’s Guide to Repairing Troubled Copy

Every content marketing writer has produced copy that he or she thought was top-notch, and then received disappointing feedback. “I just don’t like it,” or, “Maybe with a little more work it could get there.” Or, “It’s just not what I was thinking it would be.” Really? What were you thinking it would be? Well, that’s the problem. Usually that person doesn’t know the answer to that question. He or she just knows that what you handed over doesn’t feel quite right.

When you are the person who wrote the “just not quite right” content, you likely feel worse, even, than those mornings you show up to work and find a hyper-redlined piece of content in your inbox. Whether you are writing for “clients” within your organization, or you are on the “agency” side and have external clients, that kind of aimless, unspecific feedback, while not fair to the marketing or creative mind behind the content creation, is doled out all too often.

So, if you know you have to go back to the drawing board with a piece of content, how do you handle the client so that when you approach the rewrite, you create what they want and like the next time around? Here are a few tips.

Put everyone in a room
Create a face-to-face meeting, if possible, to discuss the issues. Make sure that everyone who reviewed and commented on the draft — and will need to sign off on round two — is in the meeting so that when you ask questions, you get the real answers. Sometimes there will be disagreement among reviewers. You want them to resolve any issues while you are in front of them, so you don’t receive conflicting edits or comments on the next draft.

Step through the document
Walk through the draft, whether it’s page by page, or paragraph by paragraph for something shorter. Review every edit and every comment so that you truly understand where all the problem areas are.

Be specific
Ask very specific questions about any language or even general areas your client didn’t like. If it’s a whole section, find out what in the section is offensive. A particular sentence? Is the tone too formal or too casual? Word choice not quite right? Are the sentences too long, too short, too choppy? Does the section just not make the point the client thinks it should?

Sometimes just a specific word can throw someone off course to the point where they latch onto it and can’t let go. If that happens, make your life easier. Just ban that word from the piece. There are lots of words to choose from. That’s why the thesaurus was created.

Send a summary
This is totally a CYA move. Right after that meeting, create a summary of exactly what you believe you are going to do with that copy when you start revising. Send it to your client, and make it clear to them that you are not going to start rewriting until they reply with an acknowledgement that says that you are, indeed, on the same page.

Do a test
On longer content pieces like eBooks, white papers, or website content, suggest that you will send three to five rewritten pages back for a preview. Have the client agree to sign off on these pages for style, tone, word choice — whatever the nagging issues were — so that you don’t spend inordinate amounts of time on a rewrite that they won’t like … again. Once you have a sign-off on the preview, you can jump into the rest of the rewriting in earnest.

Keep it remarkable
At the extreme end of this situation, there is the teeny tiny tendency to maybe just not be super motivated to produce stellar content for the client who rejected your first round of Pulitzer Prize-winning prose. Fight that urge. Remember, it’s not personal. I know you put your heart and soul into that content, and the creation process IS a very personal effort (even though it is also business), but it’s your job to create remarkable content every time. So your best bet is to do a better job the second time around — because then there won’t be a third time.

Content creation is hard. It requires a truckload of ideas, doggedness, and well, just a lot of hard work. And it’s frustrating when what you create doesn’t hit the mark, but that’s part of working in a creative business. Negative, vague feedback will happen, so when it does, use these tips to guide the rewrite, so that at least you only have to do it once.

And when the idea well seems to have run dry, don’t panic. Download our checklist, “10 Ways to Generate New Content Ideas.”

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About Yvonne Lyons:

Yvonne Lyons is Right Source’s vice president of creative services, overseeing content and design for all of our clients. She ensures that all creative produced at Right Source is of the highest quality and is aligned with our clients’ business strategy and goals. Yvonne received a bachelor’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University in writing and literature and has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, branding and communications. You can find Yvonne on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or read her other posts.