What’s with all the lingo?
There are a lot of terms thrown around out there in hire-a-writer land. Like concepting, messaging, content development, and copywriting. Here’s what I mean when I sling these babies. Sadly, I can’t guarantee that’s what every single other person means. And truth be told, there’s a lot of overlap among them. They might be different roles, even different people. They might be different phases of a project. Or they might be all smooshed together under one umbrella called “writing.” Which is also fine. When I get a project like that, I just run through the four steps privately—no one has to know.
You might consider this finding the big idea from which all the other ideas will flow. It usually starts with brainstorming, sometimes with lots of people, sometimes lots of crazy stuff as a necessary prelude to the good stuff. Good writers are often concepting as they go, as finding a big-idea organizing principle is necessary for many copywriting projects. But when you see concepting called out in my portfolio, it’s because there was a specific part of the process devoted to it, usually in partnership with the strategic and design teams. Cliff notes for concepting: The difference between, “Write a day-in-the-life script” (use this concept) vs. “Write a script that shows how wonderful the Wonderful Widget is” (develop a concept).
Messaging is about two things: Choosing your talking points and choosing the language used to talk about them. I am messaging’s biggest fan. Every business or organization should have a beautifully succinct way to convey what they’re about (aka “positioning statement”). Beyond that, they should know what their top three or four customer benefits are and how to express them in words that will connect with their audience (aka “key messages”). And beyond that, they should have support for those benefits based on real things they really offer (aka “proof points”). Messaging is one of a copywriter’s best friends. If we’re talking about a project, one of the first questions I’ll ask you is, “Do you have a messaging document?” If the answer is no, I will try to sell you one articulate why you should have one and let it drop that I could help in that regard. Believe me, this is a smart investment and I am very good at it.
I use this term for situations where I am not given complete (or even any) source material to use in copywriting the piece. Content development can range from researching to interviewing, and can also include thinking up topics that would be interesting, say for a blog post or a newsletter article. I also use this term to describe what I call finding the story. The source material might cover all the facts about the company or the product or the program, but unless there’s a compelling benefit-centric narrative to go along with the facts, let’s face it, the piece will be boring, boring, boring. Yes, this overlaps quite a bit with copywriting, at least for savvy, strategic writers.
Ah, finally, the writing. By which many people mean all of the above. This includes everything from staring at a blank screen to editing a client-supplied draft—and a few possibilities in between. This is where the magic happens! It’s pretty self-explanatory, but I do want to mention one thing: Voice. Finding the right voice for a piece is, IMHO, not optional. It’s essential for authentic communication between you and your audience. A talented writer can write in many styles and has a stellar gut about which style will work where. For example, this website. This is my authentic voice. But if you are a rocket scientist talking to other rocket scientists (yes, true story), me writing for you will not sound like this. Thank goodness, right? You will sound like you. Only better. Because you hired an expert so you can focus on the things you are an expert on.