The difference between writing and wording: a guide for stupid penny-pinchers

Now that it’s so easy to do your own marketing online, the value of soft-skills professionals has come into question. Welcome to the Idiot’s Guide to p*ss-poor approaches as in the following…

  • Who needs to pay professional videographers, for example, when you can shoot a perfectly acceptably sales video on your IPhone (never mind that brilliant video camera you can buy for for little or nothing from Amazon) and edit it up a bit on your Mac – upload to YouTube and/or your website, and bingo?
  • Who needs to pay professional photographers to shoot images of your new product or service when your cellphone works just as well and costs nothing?
  • Who needs to use professional graphic designers when you have a world of free art out there you can use to put almost any requirement together?
  • And who needs to use a professional writer to do just “a little bit of wording” for your website or brochure?
Why cheap creative marketing resources are a piss-poor investment

How clever is it for ignorant businesses to sneer at professionals in writing, design, web development and other marketing areas of expertise?

Technology offers many things, but it can’t provide unique human talent. Yet this is being denigrated and cheapened in parallel with the techno-cheapening of everything else.

Professional marketing writing is not  just about writing

When you hire a professional marketing communications writer (ditto web developer, graphic designer, etc.) you get a lot more than words/websites/design in the package. You get expertise in creating and implementing solutions that work across a far wider horizon than mere “wording.”

Yet many businesses – small ones, in particular – don’t join up the dots between “wording” and what marcomms expertise is really all about.

…and no, I’m not saying that because some idiots try to reduce me and others from respected experts to a pay-by-the-metre hacks, although there are some who think that’s all we soft-skill experts are worth. A couple of examples of my own…

“You want how  much just for a little bit of wording?”

A charismatic young “Jack The Lad” who runs a real estate company was advised to use my help to create new sub-brands as well as advertising taglines for his company, which I did. I charged him for three hours of my time which was generous, especially considering I spent about twice that number of hours in rambling meetings with him and his cohorts.

His response when I sent him a bill for 3 hours of my time?

“FFS, all you did was a little bit of wording.”

He paid, all the same, but reluctantly. From then on he “worded” his marcoms himself.

The consequences? His advertising is all about his visual branding which is good (courtesy of my acquaintance who introduced us, and is a very good designer.) His “wording” is arrogant, pompous and meaningless, so potential clients can’t possibly understand “what’s in it for them.”

His real estate business is struggling along. The last I heard he has opened a restaurant. Let’s hope he isn’t cutting corners on quality there, too.

How small businesses should value marketing professionals

“How much do you charge per word?” That’s rather like asking a professional chef to price a meal based on what they charge per petit pois.

“Now we’ve talked about this, can you tell us how much you charge per word?”

This was a project that was very close to my heart for personal reasons: the originator of the concept, a friend of mine, had died recently and her friends and former partner are committed to developing a health-related concept within Human Resources (HR).

Not quite understanding that I have been a marketing communicator for a long time, the lead friend asked me to contribute to a meeting about developing our late friend’s passionate business ambition to make a huge difference in Human Resources’ approach in this particular instance.

I turned up and contributed (for nothing, of course; this was a preliminary discussion.) Then the alarm bell went off: “oh, the web designer said to ask you how much you charge per word.” That’s rather like asking a professional chef to price a meal based on what they charge per petit pois.

Despite being listened to and apparently appreciated, I heard nothing afterwards … apart from a note saying that a personal friend of the deceased had written some nice stuff for the home page and my content was not really required.

What I had shared was some marketing communications advice

…and that, obviously, wasn’t wanted. Listening through to the presentation, I could see some very valid ideas … but they were being hamstrung by inappropriate influences and wrongful assumptions. Things that easily could have been averted.

What really upset me though, was that the marketing advice I had shared is based on very solid evidence that, should it be implemented, would make a significant difference to this enterprise.

But, oh no – you’re just the writer. Never mind your training, qualifications and 25+ years’ experience in marketing communications (and no, not one year’s experience repeated 24 times! LOL…)

So is it worth using business writers for cheap prices?

There are writers willing to work for ridiculous prices – e.g. on where copywriters charge as little as £3.79 for one web page of text. That’s less than you pay for a Starbucks Cappuccino in Brussels, Belgium.

There’s nothing to indicate that some, at least, of these low-price writers aren’t any good. Undoubtedly some are. But most aren’t, usually through no fault of their own.

Savvy business owners – people with a good working knowledge of marketing – will be able to judge right away whether they have wasted their money on a cheap writer or not.

But – here’s the catch: if you, as a business owner, don’t know what sort of writing (or design and web development, for that matter) is going to work for your business, how the hell can you judge the results that the cheap supplier delivers?

This provides two dilemmas for us marketing communicators

Dilemma #1 If we work for business owners who don’t know the difference between genuine marketing writing expertise and the work of a 19-year-old student who can barely speak English doing a little hack writing for pocket money, the probable way the business owners will make a choice on who is the cheaper. Do we point out the folly of this way?

Dilemma #2 and this is a moral one. If we’re called in for a briefing by a business owner who is adamant that we are singing to their tune, yet we know from our own training, experience and expertise that their marketing strategy is wrong, what do we do? Walk away empty-handed? Try to talk them into a better strategy and get kicked in the teeth for impudence? Shut up, do the job wrong and take the money (and probably take the blame, too, when the project fails)?

Why using a cheap writing service does not pay

Does a 19-year-old student who can barely speak English doing a little hack writing for pocket money, know enough about marketing to do a first-class writing job?

5 reasons why it pays to hire professional, experienced writers and other marcomms specialists

1.If you know about marketing and have a marketing strategy already in place, the specialists will fit in and get it right first time (so saving time and money on endless rewrites, design and other edits.)

2.If you don’t know about marketing, marcomms experts do – and will guide you towards a good marketing strategy as part of the deal. Value? Priceless. (Downside: if you don’t know about marketing but pretend that you do and try to force them into doing what amounts to a bad job, they may well tell you where to stick your project. A cheapo, who probably doesn’t know about marketing either, will just go along with what you want, so helping you throw good money after bad.)

3.Be sure you know how to brief the writer or other professional (I’m going to write a separate article on how to do that, so watch this space) … and if you get any blank, uncomprehending stares, you’re looking at a cheapo. A professional will know what you mean, will act on it and deliver first-class results right away.

4.Even if your 12-year-old cousin has managed to hack into the main servers at the Pentagon, don’t trust them to design and/or write a marketing website for you. Technical savvy by itself is not  marketing savvy. Marketing savvy is something that takes a while, a lot of training and a lot of enthusiasm to learn. And it never appeals to 12-year-olds.

5.Ditto your other, 14-year-old cousin who can skip around Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and various other platforms like a turbo-charged butterfly and says “forget writing your website and blogs – I’ll promote your business on social media.”  They might, to the wrong audiences, in the wrong way. Wrong social media promotion is probably the most harmful disease to strike marketing effectiveness since the Black Death.

A movie director I worked with recently shared an old joke from Hollywood, where a would-be-but-failed movie mogul would come up with a flamboyant and totally unproduceable idea and then hire screenwriters for a pittance to come and “word it in.”

That has been seen as a very funny joke for decades.

But now, it seems, “wording it in” is not a joke any more – not for ignorant business penny-pinchers, anyway.

Don’t forget that wonderful line that has been attributed to dozens of famous people from Sir Richard Branson to Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln … “if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait till you see how much it costs when you hire an amateur.”

What do you think? Are good, experienced professional writers and other marcomms experts worth more than a cup of coffee?

Please share your thoughts with us!

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