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It is the moment that every professional services marketing specialist dreads… the press release or article sliding across the desk… so much red pen on it that you can barely see the black. And when you look at it the panic sets in. You start to see long-winded sentences, old-fashioned words, way too much information… What on earth are you meant to do with it? Did you simply not “get” what they were hoping for? Or did they miss the point that you were aiming for?

Of course, in the majority of cases, this isn’t about the marketing department not getting it. Nor, for the record, is it about the fee-earners not getting it either. The problem lies in the fact that you are trying to shoehorn two different styles of writing together… two parties, both of whom think they are paid and “trained” to write and both of whom think their way is correct. When you have two parties with different priorities then it is never going to work.

What did you do wrong?

In many cases, where the marketing writer falls down is in concentrating entirely on the client or consumer that will read it. “What?”, you might ask. “Isn’t every piece of writing a potential sales tool?” Of course you’re right, but your client is the fee-earner that will first read it. By only concentrating on the very end reader you totally forget the list of requirements and pre-conceptions that your fee-earner might have. You have the unenviable task of trying to satisfy two people and that, more often than not, means reducing the sales speak, buzzwords and informal tone.

What did the fee-earner do wrong?

When your whole working life is centred on picking holes in written text it is understandable that your brain might err on the side of mentioning every point, including the kitchen sink. Articles written by lawyers can be long-winded and overly technical… of course, they’re worried that if they leave something out then the reader will hunt them down and start legal proceedings. They’re also naturally averse to anything the smacks of sales… and that means, in all probability, your tone of voice when writing.

Once you understand the fundamental differences between how you and your fee-earner approach writing, then you are half way to success. In reality there are many things that you can learn from their approach but there are also, undoubtedly, things that you do better. The art of successful copywriting for professional services lies in working out what’s best for everyone (not forgetting the client either).

So, what should you be doing?

1. Get a clear brief – Understand what your fee-earner is looking for and what they hope to achieve with it.

2. Translate the brief – Once you know what your fee-earner wants, then you have to think long and hard about a) whether this is what the client wants and b) if not, how to combine the two.

3. Agreement is good – If you think there are questions then go back to the fee-earner at this point and check them out. Before you do any writing you need to make sure you have a clear brief and that everyone is in agreement.

4. Pick your route – Now you have an idea of the goal, you need to work out how you are going to get there. What are the key messages? How might you structure what you want to say? What key things do you think your fee-earner and clients need to hear? What size/word-count will it be?

5. Choose your language – The final “before you start writing” is the conversation that you need to have with yourself about the appropriateness of written language. Some examples might help you:

  • Press release – This is an “attention grabber”. It’s going to have short sentences, catchy buzzwords, quotes and interesting facts to draw the reader in. It’s not a direct sales tool so no need to flog the firm. Editors are interested in reading about an interesting story, not a sales pitch.
  • Case updates and white papers – These are going to be far longer winded and contain lots of detail. You can afford to write in longer prose and break your sentences up with commas and semi-colons where applicable. Language is likely to be more formal.
  • Email bulletins – Punchy and consumer-focused. They need to demonstrate the “why is this important to me” element. “In a nutshell” is a good way to approach it. There is scope for a short sales sentence at the end here.
  • Business development pitches – You should be calmly and confidently stating the benefits to the client. The “so what” test is always a good one to make sure you keep the jargon to a minimum. Don’t be tempted to be too salesy or you’ll alienate your fee-earner. Challenge every sentence and make sure it needs to be there and reads as written by a confident professional rather than a travelling salesman.
  • Brochures, websites and flyers – Different people read each of these and they all have different purposes. If you find yourself using the same copy for each then you have your targeting is a bit wrong! Websites can be short, punchy and challenging. Brochures are often more formal (to cater for the more traditional client).
  • Articles – These should be tailored to the publication and to the topic. Some might use relaxed, personal language (eg. articles about people at your firm) and others might be hard-hitting and stripped of the personal niceties (eg. articles about key legal developments). Approach each one uniquely.

6. Jargontastic – Above all, with all copywriting, you must remember that you are writing on behalf of a lawyer… not a marketing agency. Your writing must sound like the person that it represents. That doesn’t mean boring and stuffy but it does mean respectable and knowledgeable. Avoid the jargon, sarcasm and sweeping statements.

7. Speak their language – There are certain words that you will learn to recognise as favourites of your firm/fee-earners. Pick these up and use them when appropriate. They will provide an air of familiarity to your writing that will make it less challenging for fee-earners to read. The same may apply for format and structure. If applicable ask them for examples of things that they like or they think have worked well.

8. Have confidence – Have confidence in your convictions. If you have set out and agreed a brief then get on and write to it.

9. Revision – Once you think that you have finished writing, have a read of it and try to anticipate where the warning bells might ring, if you were your fee-earner. Where are the hot spots? Is there anything that you could or should change?

10. Proof it – It is important that your fee-earner focuses on the copy… not the typos. Don’t give them the temptation of ringing errors and missing the more important points of content and language. Proof read it, and again… and again before sending it.

11. Send it out – If you feel like you have really thought properly about it then send it out with confidence. If you send it to them expecting a derogatory response then you’ll almost certainly get one. If you send it out confidently and support it in your covering email (explaining why you have written it the way you have ie. sharing your theory, preparation and goals) then it will more likely be approached respectfully.

12. Don’t take it personally – When it inevitably comes back with red pen, don’t take it as a personal affront. They aren’t saying you’re no good. They are paid to pick holes. Take it on the chin and go through each comment carefully and test it against the brief.

13. Stand up for yourself – If you think that comments are wrong, when tested against the brief, then respectfully raise them with your fee-earner. You may get shot down in flames but gradually you will earn respect for standing up for your beliefs. In the majority of cases you may well be pleasantly surprised.

14. Listen – Learn the things they regularly object to and make sure you don’t do it next time. Similarly, learn the things they particularly like. Take them on board and use them to anticipate their requirements in future projects.

15. Give it time – Winning a fee-earner over to your style of writing will take time. It is a pure proof-is-in-the-pudding situation. You cannot force someone to trust you and in this instance it is only trial and error that will generate it. If you demonstrate that you can produce high-quality materials (and can take comment without getting in a strop) then eventually the leash will get looser and you will earn their trust.

16. Educate them – Be tactical. If you see things that are well written then send them to your fee-earners with a “thought you might find this interesting” post-it note. These examples might come in handy if/when you have to defend an idea and over time they might grow to understand what you are aiming for and why.

17. Educate yourself – Always keep copies of well-written items and try to analyse why you think they work. Make notes about the good points and try to emulate them in future projects. 18. Don’t flog a dead horse – Above all… if all this fails and the truth is that you hate copywriting and think you’re no good… don’t flog a dead horse. Suggest that you bring in a professional to do it for you or, perhaps, embark on some training to hone your skills a little.

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