Shut Your Beautiful, Beautiful Mouth: How Too Much Creative Input Ruins Creative Work

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June 15, 2021

Have you ever heard that phrase, too many cooks in the kitchen?

It's a feeling copywriters like myself are all too familiar with. We get a project, we get our arms around it, and then before we know it, we are SURROUNDED by people telling us how to write it.

Good creative direction isn't a roundtable discussion.

You don't get to be picky and vague at the same time, but you do get to be ultra-specific about how you talk about your brand and your products. Set the tone from the beginning - don't start without a style guide and kick the copy around until you like it enough.

Look, it's really, really noble that so many organizations want to be more democratic. They want their teams to have input. And to a certain extent, it's an ego thing; everyone wants to feel like they've left their mark on your work.

As a creative professional, I'm already managing the technical expectations for the workproduct. Then there's the egos I have to cradle to be sure that nobody gets too offended when I pushback against their inputs.

But if there's one thing that causes delays and poorly performing copy, it's have six people jump into a Google Doc, after all of the strategy discussions should have taken place. And it's not just annoying - too many cooks in the kitchen create what I call 'Frankenstein's monster' copy that's a hodgepodge of value propositions and disjointed verbiage that doesn't connect with the reader.

And worst of all yet, it doesn't perform.

Here's how to set your copywriter up for success.

Look, we creatives aren't pompous talent walking around with our pinkies in the air and an air of ingratitude for your actual, you know, business. Most of the time, I'm more than willing to put my own creative feelings aside for the sake of giving the client what they want, even if what they want is wrong.

You can manage creative talent without overmanaging it, and you can still leave enough room for iteration - but there's a way to do it.

#1 - Get your details straight

One of the simplest things you can do to maximize the efficacy of any creative on your team is to overwhelm them with information, and to do it all in one place. Give them campaign dates, all of the associated collateral, the use cases for the product - every nitty gritty detail that provides a broad enough context and all of the pertinent information to create concepts that are going to require less iteration later down the line.

#2 - Come armed with a style guide

Knowing your own personality before you start any campaign is crucial to your success. Some creative professionals sideline in branding and can help you establish these creative criteria as you go, but it's going to be a struggle to build that on time ahead of your immediately necessary materials.

Take the time now to get clear on who your target audience is, the strongest use cases for your product, and document stylistic guidelines for creatives that align with all of that research.

#3 - Follow a strategic process

Have a tight deadline? Create a process with your creative or graphic designer and own it. You might start by discussing the project details with them, and handing them the bones for their creative brief. Include all of the pertinent details like due dates, links to designs and assets, and anything else they may need to get started. From there, make changes and review things by session, and set a deadline to lock down any further changes.

Trust expertise, and don't be afraid to advocate for your brand.

The one area where I tell my clients to push back like crazy on my writing is in my features and benefits language. If the use case for the product feels off, then it's possible I don't know their product well enough yet to write about it.

It's imperative to give creatives space to work, and it's also critical to remember that they might not yet be experts in the problems your product is here to solve. Make it your job to paint that picture for them as clearly as possible in your branding documentation, and don't be afraid to advocate for what makes your brand's secret sauce so special.

Not all creatives are marketing strategists, and vice versa.

Look at your creative hire's background to get a sense of how much understanding they have of product marketing and the broader funnel before deciding to leave creative direction up to them.

Generalists who have a specialized skill are usually excellent bets to make strategic decisions in the creative, whereas creatives who have never managed or implemented broader campaign focus may not have the skills necessary to tell you what you need.

If the latter is the case, you'll either need to hire somebody who is both a generalist AND a creative (hey, that's me), or handle your own creative direction in-house and outsource copywriting and graphic design to a freelancer.