Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Words and Pictures: Combining Copywriting with Visual Media

We live in a very visual world. Even experiencing written text is a visual process (unless of course you're reading this in Braille or listening to it through your computer's voice). Marketing has always combined words and pictures to hit prospective customers from two different directions in a coordinated attack. So let's look at how a copywriter works alongside various visual artists as part of an organization's potent creative team.

Print Design

Copywriting and graphic design have always gone hand in hand in the creation of print marketing collateral such as brochures, onesheets and media kits. But how do these two forces collaborate smoothly? In my experience, that all starts with you -- or at least with your business's marketing coordinator. You must have a clear vision of the piece's objectives (brand reinforcement, promotion of a specific service), target audience, and call to action.

Once you've got that settled, it's time to call in the troops. There are times when the visual elements of a piece are intended to dominate everything else in the message, and on those occasions it will be natural for the graphic designer to take the lead, providing the writer with a concept to draw inspiration from. Other pieces may be largely driven by the text, which means that the writer takes the lead and the designer designs around the marketing copy. Plan your production and communication pipelines accordingly to ensure an efficient, non-confusing workflow.

Web Design

The relationship between copywriting and web design can prove somewhat tricker than that between writer and graphic designer. Proper website design must accommodate all sorts of variables, from the visual elements of your brand (logo, color scheme etc.) to text layout that creates maximum impact and directs the reader to click through to the next stop along your online sales funnel. This is complicated by the fact that today's commercial websites really need to be responsive in design, scaling up or down not only in size but also in the amount of content displayed on different types of screens. The copywriter must be able to provide text that can selectively "drop ballast" from one screen resolution to the next while still providing all the key points.

The balance between copy and layout is also crucial for landing pages -- those deep product or service pages where you really drive home the sales pitch. Landing pages are always text driven, but the way that text is arranged on the page can make a huge difference. You'll want to make sure that your designer has placed the text front and center, in an ultra-legible font and surrounded by plenty of white space for easy reading. The copywriter should break his content into lots of short-ish paragraphs, punctuated by dramatic headings that the designer can present in a bold, sensationalistic manner.


How does your copywriter collaborate with your video production team? First and foremost, there's the script. Even a marketing video with no dialogue or dramatic scenes needs a narrative spine, from a shot list that tells the director and videographer what to shoot to a voice-over script that makes sense of what the viewer sees. You'll want to bring your copywriter into the video production process right from the very beginning, because it's a lot easier (and cheaper) to revise a script draft, which is essentially just a blueprint for later collaborative action, than to rearrange an entire production schedule.

Once you've made your video, you still need to promote it, and here's where copywriting plays yet another essential role. If you plan on posting your video on YouTube, Kickstarter or some other online platform, your copywriter can create descriptive text to go with it on the appropriate page. This can range from a cute or exciting introductory blurb to a full page of product description and promotion. 

Anyway, you get the idea. Words and pictures go together like peanut butter and jelly in practically any marketing strategy. So assemble your go-to creative team, give them the right guidance to get them started, and then watch them deliver the total experience you need to sell your stuff!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Do You Dare to Freelance?

I've talked to many writers are either do all their writing for an employer or moonlight with a little part-time writing here and there. Some of them are happy with their current situation, and some aren't. The ones who aren't often express their wish to go freelance, but always follow up that wish with phrases like "I'm still weighing the risk," or "I know I could do it, but I'm scared to make the big leap." 

Perhaps you've been toying with the idea of offering your writing (or other) services on a freelance basis, but something always seems to hold you back. Maybe you've gotten used to a comfortable existence that could well suffer upheaval; maybe someone is constantly in your ear about why you shouldn't bother; or maybe you're just waiting for all the planets to line up and spell out your marching orders. It's true that freelancing involves risk -- which means that on some level, you've got to be a risk-taker. Here are some thoughts on how to see risks for what they are (or aren't) and control what you can control.

There's Never an Ideal Moment to Go Freelance

If you're waiting for that perfect moment to take up a freelancing career, you'll still be waiting when they stuff you into a pine box. There's no such thing as the perfect time to uproot one way of life for another, especially one as potentially unstable and stressful as freelance work. But there's also no perfect time to get married, have a baby, move across the country, or undertake so many other major life transitions. In the end, your desire to do it has to be strong enough to outweigh potential risks and obstacles. Having said that, you might decide that layoffs in your workplace or some other unsettling issue provide a reasonable trigger.

You Can Reduce Your Risk Up Front

While the risks are real, so is your ability to minimize it before you make the leap. For starters, keep your relationship with your present employer and co-workers solid, just in case you have to ask for some job placement assistance someday. At the very least, don't burn your bridges (or a bagful of dog poop placed outside your boss's door). Any professional network is a potential gold mine for future connections, whether you're freelancing or returning to the 9-to-5 world.

Next, examine your current lifestyle. If you're just making your monthly nut on your current handsome and predictable salary, then you'd better downsize right now. Move to a smaller place, get rid of that extra car payment you could probably live without, stop dining at restaurants every night, et cetera. Live as if you're poor -- because there are times when you will be. This downsizing not only helps to buffer you against financial swings, but it also forces you to think more carefully about how you handle money, a critical skill for any business owner.

Not All Naysayers Are Qualified to Say Nay

In the minds of some, there's never a good time or sufficient reason to take a risk -- any risk -- and an infinite number of reasons not to do so. These are the folks who tend to reply to your every argument for doing something with "Yes, but..." Don't fall into the trap of defending your position against this brand of naysayer, because there aren't enough counter-arguments in the world to shoot down the list of objections they seem to carry around in their shirt pocket. Instead, think hard about who's doing the naysaying, and why.

Ask yourself: Do they actually know anything about freelancing at all? Do they just play it safe in all aspects of their own lives by nature? Did they actually try freelancing and fail at it -- and if so, did they make specific mistakes that you could easily avoid? Is there some other hidden emotional agenda at work? Are some of the arguments legitimate? Are you the naysayer? Analyze the source of the naysaying, and you'll know what portion of it give due consideration and what portion to ignore.

Of course there are other factors in considering a freelance career, such as whether you can thrive in isolation, maintain a sharp mental focus, and summon the necessary self-discipline to complete projects on time (and sometimes under pressure) without a supervisor. But for many writers, it comes down to how willing or able they are to roll the dice. In the end, no one can else can make that call for you -- but the more you understand about the risks involved and how to address them, the better informed your choice will be. Good luck!