This post was written by TCCS member, Sara Keli
From fearing to embracing the dreaded feedback
Feedback stings. There’s something about someone taking a red pen to your words – words you’ve probably spent hours poring over – that can feel like a real kick in the guts.
But feedback is all part of the art of copywriting. So face it we must.
Before you throw in the towel and turn your back on writing forever, know that even the most hardened, experienced copywriters have had the feedback wobbles. Over time, you’ll learn how to deal with feedback. You may even come to welcome it.
Here are some tips to take you from fearing feedback to embracing it as your friend.
You are not your copy
Feedback is rarely personal. If it is, you’re working with the wrong clients.
It’s hard to separate the feedback about your copy from feedback about you as a copywriter. But that’s exactly what you need to do.
Copy is subjective. It’s never perfect. The more eyes that read it, the more opinions there are on the words, the phrasing of the sentences and the structure of the copy.
This is a scenario TCCS member Kristy Wright knows all too well from her background in tertiary education and government comms.
“I learned very early on not to be too precious about edits and revisions,” she says. “Sometimes there would be a whole chain of command the copy had to go through, and lots of changes. My job was to write a draft and then do my best to incorporate all those changes.”
“The feedback is never personal when done properly,” agrees fellow TCCS copybeast Lisa O’Sullivan. “It’s about chipping away at the brief so it can be the best it can be to the satisfaction of the people involved. It’s not ‘my’ work. It’s ‘ours’.”
There’s always a lesson to be learned
Not to go all cliche (“Feedback is a gift”), but often there’s a lesson to be learned, particularly when the feedback really grates or triggers a response.
What’s the lesson? Sometimes feedback may highlight the fact you need to improve your process or add to your terms and conditions. (Don’t have them yet? Start with the Copywriting Project Terms and Conditions template in the TCCS Copy Shop.) Other times you can take on board a different perspective on how to phrase a sentence.
And in some cases, the lesson is actually a red flag to look out for when screening future potential clients.
When the project is complete, take the time to look for the lesson and prevent similar scenarios from happening in the future.
When to push back on feedback from clients
How do you deal with feedback you feel is unwarranted or will reduce the impact of the copy?
Push back. But with limits.
“Remember you are not their mum,” says Kate Toon, TCCS Head Copybeast. “You can advise a client, question them and push back, but at the end of the day it’s their copy. And while you might be right, they’re the one footing the bill. So by all means voice your concerns, but also know when to stop voicing them and just do what the client wants you to do.”
TCCS member Rikki Sullivan explains that copywriting is a collaborative process.
“Sharing why you’ve approached something the way you have allows you to improve it together so everyone’s happy,” she says. “Sometimes it’s not that straightforward, and despite open communication and explanation a client insists on changes that damage the impact. It’s their copy at the end of the day, so as long as I’ve been clear about the ‘why’, it’s ultimately their choice.”
It’s also wise to pick your pushback battles. If you push back on every piece of feedback, you risk developing a combative relationship with your client. Push back when it matters most to get the best outcome for the client.
Handling feedback and righting the ship
Sometimes feedback can threaten to derail a project. The client rips the copy apart, and you’re back to square one facing a complete rewrite.
Dealing with feedback and criticism in these cases may require you to hold firm. If the feedback is beyond the scope of the project, or due to a change from the client (e.g. changing voice halfway through the project), you need to communicate that.
If in doubt, pick up the phone. A five-minute conversation with a client is often all it takes to clarify their feedback and realise it’s probably not as daunting as you first thought.
Feedback? What feedback?
Not receiving feedback can send you spiralling into imposter syndrome just as much as brutal feedback that shreds your copy to pieces. And then there are those times where the client has made drastic changes to the copy without involving you in the revisions.
As long as they’ve paid the invoice, it’s their copy to do with as they like. But a healthy bank balance doesn’t necessarily help your professional development.
To streamline your process, the TCCS Copy Shop Copywriter Project Revisions Brief and Copywriter End of Project Sign Off Template may be worth the (small) investment. If your client is ghosting your emails, try calling them. Or remind them of your revisions timeframe as outlined in your T&Cs.
Tips to minimise feedback
There are things you can do within your process to cut feedback off at the pass.
It starts with taking a good brief to understand who you’re writing for and why. What does your client do/sell? Who are their customers? What does the copy need to communicate? Who are their competitors? If you can’t answer these questions, you need to go back to your client for more information.
How you deliver the copy also matters. Including a video (using a product such as Loom) with your copy allows you to explain anything that may be a sticking point and give the client confidence in your work. Tools such as Draftium can also help the client envisage the layout of the copy on their website.
TCCS member Catherine Hughes uses this approach, and either sends a video with her copy or includes comments in the document. For large or complex projects she also sends an outline or sample section to check the outline and key messages before she starts writing.
“I find I get better feedback if clients understand where I’m coming from and what I was trying to do with the copy,” she explains.
Kate Toon recommends that you ‘gird your loins’.
“By this I mean don’t send your copy off expecting the client to love it. Expect them not to,” she explains. “A first draft for example should be considered as only 60% done, not 99% done. This will give you and the client wiggle room, and allow you to maintain an acceptance mindset.”
You may even find that getting a bloodbath of copy feedback the first time you work with a client leads to a long and prosperous relationship. You know what they like, know what they expect, and can deliver a beautifully aligned brand voice with every piece of copy you write for them. It’s all part of the process.
Now it’s your turn to provide some feedback
Are you a dab hand at turning a poor feedback experience into a stellar piece of copy? Or does feedback leave you feeling weak at the knees? Drop a comment and tell us what you think.
About Sara Keli