Getting started: Quick copywriting tips for fast results

Writing to a deadline is not always easy, but is a fact of everyday life at an international PR agency – it always seems to be EOB somewhere. When it comes to copywriting, everyone tends to do things a little different, and as long as people understand how they work best, they should do what works for them. But there are a few pointers we give our fresh recruits when they join the team to help them on their way to becoming productive writers.

What are you on about?
If you don’t know what you are talking about, then it will show. You can ‘wing it’ when you are talking, but not with words on the page. A little bit of time spent putting a plan together will save you a lot of time further down the line. I won’t go into too much detail here as my colleague Jon’s recent blog looks at the merits of proper planning. Suffice to say, get your resources in place first before you commit words to page.

Don’t stare into the void
While some may see the blank canvas as a vehicle full of potential for creativity, when you are on a deadline I think there is nothing worse for productivity than a bank page. Just get some words down.

At its simplest, writing copy is stringing together ideas in a logical way to tell a story. This is hard to achieve if there is nothing there to string together. If you are unsure of how to kick things off, remember that you don’t always need to start at the beginning. Write down what you do know and then start ordering those thoughts on the page.

At IBA our CEO well remembers her old editor saying to her – start somewhere, even if you think it is in the middle. You may find it makes a good beginning.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time
The same messages from multiple sources are more readily believed. That’s the aim of the PR game, to get your messages out there and for them to be believed by your target audience. This might mean using the same information on different platforms and in different formats – but that’s ok. It means consistent messaging in target media and time saved.

Write once, edit many times
Writing and editing are two different skill sets and shouldn’t be conflated. Let the ideas come first and then work on the presentation. Don’t get bogged down on polishing the first line before you’ve thought of the second. Get the shape the story you want to tell before refining and cutting. This is one of the more difficult habits to break because we are often our own worst critics, but once you start separating writing from editing you’ll be amazed at how much time you can save.

Don’t fear rejection
Once you’ve written and edited, we here at IBA send our copy to be sub-edited. As writers, we often get attached to the words we write and therefore fear the cuts and the feedback, but every piece of content needs a second pair of eyes. The sub won’t have your ‘baggage’ so can be more ruthless and ensure the final piece is engaging, concise and in a logical order. Don’t be discouraged when you are told to rework a section or your favourite phrase didn’t make it past the chopping block because, in the end, it’s all about readability.

Once you are happy with the quality send it – don’t let it sit on your hard drive – and keep the ball rolling. Don’t forget, that deadline is looming.

James Rose is Head of Content Strategy at IBA International.

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