Seven Ways to Encourage Better Copy Critiques

Great editors can make a piece of writing come alive.

The same goes for all kinds of writing, including copywriting. The more focused the copy review, the tighter and more persuasive your copy will be in the end. For those reasons – and because it's often very difficult to spot your own mistakes – it's essential to get critiques on your copy. The earlier in the drafting process, the better.

Unfortunately, getting the kind of in-depth feedback you require isn't always easy. Which is why, this week, we're going to look at seven ways (among many) to keep your copy reviewers on track and get them to do their best work for you.

1) Quantify Your Demands:

Let the person or people you're asking to review your copy know how much you want from them. For instance, you could try saying something like …

" This is a pretty important promo piece, so I want you to give it a thorough review. On an intensity scale of 1 to 10, give it at least a 'level 8' looking over."

Likewise, ask them to quantify the results: "Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10, how well does this package meet the goals you're looking for?"

2) Give Them a Time Limit:

My old friend and colleague Deeba Jaffri never lost sight of the value of a deadline. She reviewed copy quickly. A two-day turnaround tops.

She also kept other reviewers on track.

Occasionally, she'd ask me to look at copy another copywriter had turned in: "Do you think you could get your comments back to me by Tuesday morning?" she'd say as she handed me the draft. "I've scheduled a conference call with the writer for 11 am."

If she hadn't made that preface a habit, who knows how many drafts would have piled up unread until the last possible minute?

3) Offer a Comparison:

Handing someone a piece of copy and saying, "What do you think of this?" is an open-ended request.

You'll close off a reluctant reviewer's escape routes much more effectively if you ask instead for a comparative critique, like so:

" Bob," you say, "I've just e-mailed you the first draft of my new promo. It has two headlines. Which one do you like better?"

And then, once you've hooked the reviewer's attention, you can throw in, "And while you're looking it over, any suggestions you have on the body copy would be terrific."

4) Play Politics:

One way to spur on a reviewer is to tell him or her – before you've been asked – that someone else has reviewed and rendered an opinion of the same piece.

Be careful. Playing personal dynamics is always risky. Just the same, simply knowing that the promo copy is being actively reviewed and opinions are forming can help convince the laggards that your package is worth looking over. And sooner rather than later.

Tip #1: Don't reveal the opinion of the other reviewer unless you have more than one to reveal. And only then if the other opinions have differed:

" Hey Matilda, can you help me on this? Froderick says he finds my U.S.P. a little on the foppish side of the fence. Emmatrude says it reminds her of the forward to the 1967 Poultry and Grain report. What do you think?"

Tip #2: With sincerity, you can also remind a reviewer – especially the marketing manager closest to the project – of the stake they have in the outcome: "Here's the draft … I think it's good, but with your input, I think we can beat your current control."

Be careful here too. Said with insincerity, this ploy could backfire and make you sound like a sap or a suck-up.

5) Take Your Copy to Someone New:

What we call a "cold read" is, technically speaking, when you give your marketing copy to several reviewers at once – each of whom has no prior background with the copy or the product.

If they want to buy the product your copy pitches, you've done your job. If not, gather their reviews into one place and see where they overlap. That's where you'll find the most opportunity for improvement.

Tip #3: You'll get your best "cold read" results if you make your review group a healthy mix of experienced marketers and random, non-professional readers.

6) Offer Different Feedback Options:

Some people are "conference call" types. Others can't unleash over the phone or in a group context. But they'll give you a pile of great comments and suggestions on paper.

Only you can surmise what will work best for your reviewer. But if you're working with someone new, it's hard to know which venue will work best.

Solution: Ask. Offer a choice. When you give a draft of the promo to a client, say, "Would you rather give me written feedback? Or should I schedule a conference call on, say, next Tuesday?"

7) Dangle a Carrot:

One way to get a reviewer to work quickly, if not thoroughly too, is to offer some extra incentive for getting the review done on time.

" If you can get this back to me by Wednesday – depending on what you think of the copy – I can get you a second draft before the weekend."

There are, as I said, many other ways to coax out a more full and timely critique.

One last bonus tip: Make good use of recently available technology.

For instance, one of my favorite ways to get and give feedback is built into Microsoft Word software.

It's the "track changes" feature found under the Tools menu. There, you'll find a submenu for tracking changes with the option "Highlight changes …"

Check that box and, until you uncheck it, everything new that someone types into the document will show up in a different color. And every line deleted will stay in the document with a line through it.

Once you've gone through the document and decided which changes to keep and which to get rid of, you can go back under the same submenu and "Accept changes."

All of the above, by the way, is assuming that you CAN take a good solid round of criticism on your copy. In almost every review situation, the professional resists the urge to be defensive. You won't make it anywhere in this business if you can't.

If a reviewer is especially harsh or especially verbose, just listen. "Most people," observed Hemingway, "never listen." How true.

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Published: June 30, 2003

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