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Dull Marketing Copy? How to Manage the Editing Process

By | Nov.12.15 | Advertising, Daily Dispatch, Legal Marketing, Legal Writing, People Management

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Writing and editing marketing copy — for a brochure, proposal, website, whatever — can be a high-wire act. If there’s more than one lawyer in your practice, you know it’s true: Make editing a group event and it becomes a management nightmare. Too many people on the tightrope leads to disaster.

Don’t feel badly; it happens even in the best-run law firms. So let’s look at how to ease the pain.

Many times, an internal or external writer will produce sparkling copy … and then the committee editing begins. By the time the eighth reviewer whacks it about, every shred of personality has been mercilessly wrung from it and you can’t parse the copy for the horrifying blood-red train wreck of Track Changes. Just attempting to read it is a formidable endeavor.

If your firm wants stale marketing copy, it’s easy to produce. Just look at three or four other law firm websites or brochures and do a rough cut-and-paste. It’s not plagiarizing because most contain virtually nothing unique. Still, as tempting as that sounds, it’s not your best bet.

Good copy sets your firm apart, gives potential clients a feel for your attorneys and their expertise, imparts the value of working with your team and generates leads. And it’s especially important for small or solo practices to differentiate themselves.

Defend Against the Dull-Down

How to avoid the inevitable edit dull-down? These 10 tips should help.

Pick your writer with care. If you have the budget for an external writer, ask around for referrals. If that’s not possible and an attorney in your firm will be crafting the copy, choose someone who likes to write in a style different from legal briefs or client opinions. Find someone with experience writing op-eds, book reviews or a newsletter for the corporate board on which she sits, for example. Help your writer with the job by pointing out webinars on brochure writing or legal web writing for a solid jump-start.

Develop consensus and limit editors. Assign a strong project manager (someone other than your writer because he will need to be managed, too) and identify those whose buy-in is a must. Then allow this small group to discuss and decide format and tone in conjunction with your writer.

Explain the process briefly to all your colleagues at the outset. This is especially true for small firms, where many if not all decisions are made as a group. Give your project manager all he or she needs to succeed, including managing expectations at the beginning. The project manager may be called on to serve as the “bad guy,” so do all you can to start them out right.

Be brutally honest about intentions. Some firms say they want creative copy, but when they see it in black and white, they realize they need a more conservative approach. If your partners have said they want to set themselves apart, remind them of that when the copy veers toward the ordinary.

Set strict deadlines for the project and enforce them. This is a sly technique to prevent too many hands from touching the copy. Plus, it forces everyone to be decisive.

Decide on a client persona. Who is this copy speaking to? Remember, it’s being written for your clients, not for yourselves. What do they need to know?

Listen to your copywriter. There is a formula for good web copy and marketing collateral. Let your writer use it. If you have questions, ask why she crafted the copy as she did. This typically should be done even when the project is sailing along smoothly.

Agree in advance who will have editing privileges. A practice group, for example, must agree to let the practice group leaders or designated editors have the final say. Pick an odd-numbered copy approval committee. Don’t fall victim to the tie vote or the single cranky wheel.

Exhaustive laundry lists aren’t productive. Web copy is not a contract of what you can deliver. If your firm or practice group provides 18 services, you don’t need to name them all. Just hit the main matters. However, if you have a highly specialized practice, don’t bury your expertise beneath experience that many firms share. Highlight your rare skills set and make sure that specialization is part of your SEO.

Ask why your copywriter advised a particular approach. A good writer will have put much thought into the process. This will also help you explain to the firm as a whole why the key players approved various choices.

Writing copy for your website or any marketing pieces can seem daunting, but it’s not rocket science. Make sure you are working with a seasoned writer, become comfortable with that person’s skills and then listen to his advice. With the right footwork, your high-wire efforts will generate appreciation and applause.

Susan Kostal is a legal affairs PR, marketing and business development consultant based in San Francisco. She writes the "Content Under Pressure" column for Attorney at Work, and has covered legal affairs as a journalist for nearly three decades. You can follow her on Twitter @skostal and view more of her content at www.susankostal.com.

Illustration ©imagezoo.com

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One Response to “Dull Marketing Copy? How to Manage the Editing Process”

  1. Mike O'Horo
    12 November 2015 at 1:37 pm #

    I’ll argue that you can’t let anyone write a single word until after you’ve fully hashed out:
    – the audience persona (which will be a new exercise for most lawyers);
    – what reaction you’re trying to provoke;
    – the single most important point that will reliably provoke that reaction;
    – the word-count limit;
    – a “no matter what” publication date;
    – an agreement that no lawyer will do actual copy editing, but relevant stakeholders will be able to offer feedback in two scheduled review meetings.

    You can’t let lawyers to individual words, phrases, etc. They can opine on tone or emphasis, but not specific language.

    Many years ago we were creating ad copy for an Atlanta firm, and we were suffering through one of those ten-lawyers-around-the-table-evaluating-every-word sessions. After a numbing amount of this, one lawyer challenged the use of a split infinitive in a colloquial segment. A senior trial lawyer, who didn’t suffer fools particularly well, chimed in with, “Well, we’re splitting infinitives now. I guess we’ve run out of hairs to split.”

    Somehow, I was able to prevent myself from exploding in laughter.


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