Word up!

Words are my job. It might not seem like it here, but it is what I spend my time doing for eight and a half hours a day.

To quote, “words don’t come easy.” Crap adage, but it’s true. I struggle, the average person struggles, and clients most definitely struggle.

I spent a year working at a small company that specialised in content strategy. Content strategy basically focuses on the planning, development and management of content, but it’s also more than that. It’s about user experience, finding a harmony between design and ideas and creating useful and usable content.

I’m not a content strategist, but this is how I understand it, and when you think about it, it makes sense. Of course when you create or present something to the public, you want their interaction with your product to be seamless!

Content strategy isn’t just about the words on a page. It is also about the media – be it images or video, for example – that is used. If the end package isn’t well structured, informative and interactive, then you’re screwed.

My point? Even though content strategy seems obvious to me – and probably to you – it isn’t really put into practice. To be fair, South Africa is a little behind the times when it comes to this concept, but I’m finding the longer I’m in the industry (and by industry, I really mean the professional real girl world), it is a concept that gets left by the wayside.

People just don’t care. Or consider themselves experts. Or think that their content is fine the way it is. But as any writer, editor, content creator, artist, etc knows, a fresh pair of eyes can open new worlds. Often, when we’re working hard on something or baring our souls, we get blinkered. It happens to everyone.

A company who offers a content/strategy service hasn’t established itself just to show you how crap your content actually is – they’re there to help you reach your full potential. That’s how I like to see it at least.

This is actually a rant in disguise πŸ˜‰

My company gets a lot of packaging work. What this means is that our client already has their design – they just need us to help with production.

This is all great and well, but every single one of these clients are experts in their own craft, not in the craft we provide. Many of these jobs don’t even make it onto my desk, which is a problem, and goes straight to our designers to ensure everything is set up correctly before we send it to print.

Today I read some packaging while I was eating my lunch. It was just sitting on the boardroom table and I couldn’t help but take a squizz. Consistency and grammatical problems are the things I see a lot of. Malapropisms, too. Or just stilted text with no flow.

I saw many of these when reading the packaging mock-ups. The design is beautiful. If I saw it on a shelf in the shops, I’d be drawn to it. If I turned the package around and read the back – like I usually do – I probably wouldn’t buy it because of all the niggly things and niggly things irritate me… but that’s just me πŸ˜‰

So, here’s a product with great potential. The client has been featured in a number of publications. She has a great product with a fantastic design but she falls short when it comes to copy. I can tell you now that using me didn’t even enter her mind because she has a “it’s fine” outlook when it comes to her own copy. Just fine is not enough! Make it right! Make it perfect!

I work on newsletters, websites, press releases, posters, flyers…basically anything that needs copy. I sit in during brainstorming sessions. We all have a voice here and we all contribute, be it copy-related or not. This is a process that works! It means that we don’t just focus on the look, we focus on the feel too.

This isn’t everyone’s process, and not every company or person understands or values good copy. Pity, because I feel like most of the time I have to beg the accounts manager, after reading crap copy, that his clients need me. I’ll do it for free, damnit!

Equally, there have been situations where I have edited, written or rewritten copy for a client and it has been rejected. This is because:

  1. Instead of taking the time to go through the changes, they have opted to go with their original copy. This client is usually busy, unconcerned about copy in general, or doesn’t care – they just want their project launched NOW; or
  2. After looking at my copy and seeing what they feel are only minor changes (even a tiny tweak can affect readability!), have decided to keep their own words; or
  3. They have a shit ton of arrogance – they believe their copy is better. Maybe a few of them are right (obviously not to me, but that’s the nature of subjective work…), but often, the copy doesn’t serve their intended purpose or just sucks, but they refuse to believe/see/understand this. It’s an affront or insult to suggest otherwise…which it isn’t.

Sigh. Just sigh. Anyway, my point here is that when creating, consider the other elements. Copy is just one of them. What is your purpose? Let all the other elements enhance these goals. If you think it’s good, have someone look at it. Take the time to test things out, have people read, look, and experience your creation and find out what they think. What is working? What isn’t working? Yes, it’s touchy-feely, but it goes a long way to putting forward your best work.

Critique isn’t a bad thing, even if it’s hard to take! I need it. We all need it. I find it difficult to take sometimes, as I’m sure others do too, but it can be incredibly useful.

I’ll be taking the time to listen carefully to the feedback I receive – and hopefully, hopefully, they’ll do the same.

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About sonneillon

Avid reader (of sometimes dubious literature), word-lover and crazy TV series watcher. If I could live in a library, I would.

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"We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown."

- T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1917)

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