Marketing directors and managers wear a lot of hats these days. With the pandemic, I’m seeing their workloads intensify even more as their staff numbers dwindle and budgets for freelance are being cut.
On top of steering their all-important brands, they’re also performing an array of design, production, optimization and analytical tasks. But the place I’m seeing it the most is in the amount of writing that falls on their shoulders—everything from regular LinkedIn posts, newsletters and blog posts to campaigns, white papers, and videos.
So if you are a marketing director who’s already doing it all and writing it all, what do you do now? The answer: do it better and faster. Here are 10 road-tested tips from a freelance copywriter in transportation and logistics to help you manage the new work load through the pandemic and beyond.
1 – Power through the procrastination.
Whether it’s a nag or an actual item on your to do list, it’s time to get over the hope that this is all going to end and you’re not going to have to write that “thing”—whatever it is. I’ve found that it’s that first step that’s so very hard. My go-to to just get that little jump that gets the writing train in motion is the Pomodoro Technique. The way it works is you set a timer for one hour, and you write. What you accomplish doesn’t matter: maybe you mindmap (a brainstorming technique gurued by Publication Coach, Daphne Gray-Grant) or outline, maybe you just start writing the darn post. The point is, after an hour, you’ll have something to build on, the project will be real—and you may just keep working now that you’ve got it going.
Pomodoro sprints are a way to keep your momentum going, too. After your first, take a break and then hit it again. Repeat until you’re finished. Don’t ask me why. Breaking up the work just works.
2 – Planning takes time, but it also saves time.
It’s easy to overlook your 30,000-foot view , your strategy and your personas when faced with a deadline. It’s hard not to be laser-focused on the deliverable you want so desperately off your plate. But you must. Force yourself to do the brief, even if you’re certain it’s all in your head. Don’t allow yourself to be lured into the weeds. On top of everything else you have to do, you don’t have time for a hard edit once you’re done. For me, twisting a manuscript back on strategy is one of the hardest things.
Know the basics going in: 1) Who you’re talking to, what you want them to do, what your key message is, and in the case of content, what stage of the funnel you’re writing for (awareness, evaluation or conversion).
3 – The “O” word – try this trick.
No one likes outlines—the word tends to remind us of the torture of elementary-school English. Consultant and writer, Pamela Wilson offers a more palatable approach to the big O. Write headlines (iterate a bunch of them—more on that below) until you come up with one you love and simply must write to. Then write your subheads. (Sneaky, huh? you just wrote the outline without dragging your heels like a 12-year-old.) Next step is to write it. Wait a day if you can.
4 – Write a cr*p-draft.
The best lesson of my writing career was another Daphne Gray-Grant trick: you give yourself permission to write a horrid, awful, embarrassing first draft. No judgements. The only catch? You have to write it fast and forward, meaning no editing while you write. (Sounds scary, I know, but that cr*p-draft is never as bad as you think it will be.) When you’re done, guess what? You’ve done your first draft.
5 – Save perfection for the edit.
With your draft in hand, the hard part is over. There’s just something about having a manuscript—good or bad, it doesn’t matter. It’s easier to improve writing than it is to create writing. So take the time to celebrate your draft and take a break (important point) before launching into the most important part of writing. Editing is when you make it good.
6 – Special tactics for ads, landing pages, videos and such.
Marketers who are expected to do it all with no budget will invariably face projects they’ve never done before. Take heart, there is always a method. When you don’t know where to start, it can help to think in terms of a document format. Sometimes when you create a form, it can free you to just fill in the blanks.
How would this hack work for an Eblast? The format would go something like this: Subject line, preheader text, headline, salutation, text blurb, call to action line, button. Why does this work? It breaks seemingly-insurmountable challenges into approachable pieces that you can write, and then go back and make better later.
7 – Iterate your way to good.
The difference between a post or ad or Eblast that reads like a strategy document and one that has reader interest, eloquence, cleverness or expresses a nugget of insight…is iteration. This was a big lesson of Luke Sullivan’s famous book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. To come up with a really good headline or lede or tagline, you have to come up with a lot of them. There is no other way. That is really the secret. I know, you don’t have a lot of time, you have to get it out the door. But if you do have a little time—even if it’s during your edit—try to beat what you’ve written. The mind gets loose once the project is in motion—and that’s when the gems present themselves.
8 – Don’t let it languish.
All right. You’ve written it. Other people have to see it and approve it. They may improve it. (Let’s hope.) They may ruin it. (Don’t take it personally.) Whatever happens, you have to manage it. Insist on clear, consolidated feedback. Your reviewers’ comments can’t conflict. Let them fight it out. Keep track of the rounds of revisions by keeping a running tally of reviewers’ initials and your corrections like this: SG_CW_SG_CW_SG_CW. In this example, Steve Garvey made three rounds of revisions which the copywriter (CW) executed. Why do this? It’s a gentle way of keeping Steve honest and ensuring he’s not going backwards.
9 – Proofread in a calm mind.
If you had to write it yourself, chances are you’ll have to proofread it yourself. Even though you’ve seen the document 5 times already, just do it. Don’t let a deflating typo slip through. (I’m still stinging from all the typos this post had when I first posted it.) Before you publish, take the time to read through every word frontwards and then backwards. (Old proofreader’s trick.) Do it while your mind is fresh and not at 1 in the morning. Your document can never be proofread enough. It will amaze you what you catch. (This post had 7–including one in the first sentence!) And after all your hard work, your writing deserves it.
10 – Great design is a writer’s best friend.
As a writer, I am surely shooting myself in the foot by saying this, but if you have a little budget—even just a tinsy bit of money—hire an art director or designer to make it look right. How your white paper, case study, ad or landing page looks is so important. Nice design can make sort of standardish copy into a very good piece. And it can make good copy into an awesome piece.
Conclusion: Good enough and fast enough.
Two final thoughts that may help make the writing process easier for you. The first, to paraphrase Steve Jobs, is that at some point, you have to “ship.” We’re our own worst critics, and I think that most of the time what we’ve written is better than our insecurities are telling us. When you’re under the gun (and as a marketing director, I know you are) ship when it’s good enough.
The second is that one can never write fast enough—even when you’ve been doing it a long time. It doesn’t help to beat yourself up because you think you’re taking too long. Good writing keeps the marketing ball rolling by drawing leads, maintaining brand presence and motivating your team members internally. It’s worth the effort. So until this is over and you get your budget back to outsource, take the time.