How and why clients fail with their content commissions

Recently we highlighted earnings and freelance rates in the world of copywriting, according to the 2017 Professional Copywriters’ Network (PCN) survey. But the research also revealed a number of issues on the client side of hiring in copywriters.

PCN-LogoAmong the 500 UK copywriters who responded to the survey, 35% said that only some of their clients were comfortable judging copy; 5% admitted that only a few were. The survey concluded that some clients would “benefit from support when it comes to commissioning, critiquing and approving copy”.

Almost all respondents said some of their clients would benefit from advice on commissioning copy, for example, with only 10% saying few clients needed help instructing copywriters.

The main problems copywriters faced on receiving a work brief were a lack of basic information on content, tone and voice, and little guidance on who they were writing for.


But what are the reasons for poor briefing or review?

While some clients may lack experience in commissioning and critiquing, this wasn’t the main issue. In fact, for the majority of respondents (45%) the issue of ‘too many cooks’ was a key factor with copy being reviewed by committee or via other complex sign-off processes. They also identified a number of other common challenges…


So what’s the solution?

Communicating with clients and managing expectations often becomes part of the copywriter’s job. But with so many clients struggling with commissioning and reviewing copy, could this be a separate role or service, or how else could the situation be improved?

CJ Walker, founder and director of Firehead, says: “Commissioning professional copy helps communicate a brand to customers online and that’s why it’s important to get the most return from your investment in a professional copywriter’s services.

“However, many SMEs will be commissioning content for the first time as part of their digital transformation so may need guidance with this new world of content. Even larger organisations may need help, as they may be more experienced but often suffer from the content-by-committee effect: diluting the potential for good content with a weak initial idea, or after submission when it does the rounds through a team of stakeholders.

“At Firehead, we think a lot of these problems can be solved up front with a clear content strategy, which is invaluable when it comes to briefing in content marketing needs to a copywriter or agency, but also helps avoid a content mess later on. A good content strategy should both support your business and help answer the information needs of your customers. Briefing problems may still occur but this way you can head off many issues at the pass.

“If you’re not familiar with content strategy, we recommend reading through some of our blog posts on the topic and checking out our training section which offers an Enterprise Content Strategy course.

“I’ll be attending the PCN Conference in October and look forward to meeting and discussing some of these issues with UK clients and copywriters. Please do get in touch if you would like to meet.”

What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Download the 2017 PCN Survey

For more information, the full PDF report is available for download here.

All charts and data are the original creation of The Professional Copywriters’ Network and are licensed for re—use under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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  1. Techwitty

    “CJ Walker, founder and director of Firehead, says: “Commissioning professional copy helps communicate a brand to customers online and that’s why it’s important to get the most return from your investment in a professional copywriter’s services.”

    do you think it has better ROI to do high level copywriting courses yourself?

    • Fiona Cullinan

      Hi Josh, not sure what you are asking here. Do you mean: is it cheaper to train up employees in-house or just do it yourself if you are a small business? If so, it probably depends on the type and volume of content you need to produce, the abilities of the staff being trained, cost of the training, etc. Copywriting is a skilled job and not something you want to get wrong when your business is at stake – I have seen some good in-house writers who know the business better than an external copywriter and are more like subject matter experts who just need an editor to prep the copy for publishing or amend to fit content strategy. One of the main issues of DIY is that you’re normally doing other jobs and content production takes a surprising amount of time and effort. In which case it might be better ROI to contract the work out. Sorry – this is a bit of an ‘it depends’ answer.