Scott Ferguson provides copywriting and marketing communications services to a wide variety of corporate clients.

Scott Ferguson 310.455.1413

You’ve got an important marketing brochure that must hit the street in three weeks. You brief the copywriter on the requirements and make a point of mentioning the drop dead delivery date. He says, "Piece of cake," as he floats out of the room absentmindedly humming the theme from Mission: Impossible. The day before the drop dead delivery date, Copydude sends over a half-finished draft littered with inaccuracies and typos that suggests he was hearing voices in his head instead of you explaining the project.

You point out to Copydude that his copy, well, sucks. He starts whining about his sick Aunt Vivian in Florida and how his dog ate a box of crayons and an entire jar of Vaseline and proceeded to perform the Technicolor squat and scoot all over the den and how you don’t understand the nuances of the creative process and...

Meanwhile, your deadline is mocking you and your brochure text is a mess.

Getting the copy you deserve—on time

There are a lot of flaky copywriters out there who never met a deadline they couldn’t blow off or a lame excuse they couldn’t milk. Talk to anyone who buys copy and you’ll hear stories of seemingly rational writers stomping their feet and throwing Tyson-esque tantrums when one of their precious adjectives is changed, or simply pulling a no-show that would make the cable guy proud. Let’s call them copywhiners. They come in both genders: Prima donnas and prima dons.

Why are so many copywriters so, uh, what’s the word...unreliable? Theories abound. One imaginary study found that long-term exposure to the incessant clackity-clack of computer keyboards caused chemical receptors in the brain to regress, turning normal writers into Adam Sandler. Another made up theory postulates that sitting alone for extended periods causes writers to misinterpret simple verbal commands, so that, "I need this delivered next Tuesday by nine," is actually processed as, "If you deliver any Tuesday, that’ll be fine."

Four critical actions copy buyers can take to minimize the whining

1) Prepare a Creative Brief. Spell out the scope of the project, the marketing and creative objectives, audience, tone and manner, legal requirements, important copy points, and anything else you can think of that’s essential to the assignment. The more detail the better. A creative brief serves several purposes: First, it forces you to define your project. Second, it gives the writer clear directions and makes it easier for him or her to stay on track. Finally, it provides the hard evidence you need to fire a writer who delivers copy that’s about as accurate as a Shaquille O’Neal free throw.

2) Pin down costs and deliverables, up front. Get your writer to sign a budget and deliverables agreement. Then determine how charges for additional edits will be figured before they crop up. Of course, if you can find a good writer who will make as many edits as you need without additional charges, so much the better.

3) Establish a clear (but reasonable) delivery date. It doesn’t help matters if you ask for War and Peace in the time it takes to whip up a Starbucks latte. Give your writer enough time to get the job done right, factoring in extra hours for the inevitable edits.

4) Route drafts expeditiously. If the big boss has to sign off on the copy, don’t wait until the writer has carefully refined the draft like an oyster culturing a pearl to get her blessing. Try to keep everyone in the copy approval loop from day-one so you can avoid hearing the dreaded eleventh-hour, seventh draft pronouncement, "This isn’t what I wanted."

Put the writing rules in writing

Even if you’re fortunate enough to employ a writer who spins phrases like Gore Vidal, exhibits a Dave Barry-like sense of humor, works as hard as James Brown, and is as loyal as a golden retriever, you’ll get higher quality copy and enjoy a more pleasant and efficient working relationship if you get everything in writing before you begin the writing.