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March 3 & 4 2020

LA Convention Center

Managing Content Marketing Writers 101: Giving Good Feedback - Ryan Brock

Writers. Surly bunch of folks, aren’t they? They’re always taking criticism to heart, like you crushed their souls, and spend the rest of the day in a dark room, brooding. 

Well maybe not all of them. But let’s be clear: managing writers is different than managing other employees, even than managing other creatives. And if you don’t manage your writer correctly, you could end up with a zombie—a person that simply throws up a bunch of boring, bland writing onto your company’s blog or website that doesn’t accurately reflect voice or do anything to connect with readers and nurture them towards your marketing and sales goals. Sure, it’s “corporate” and “professional,” but how far will that get you when so much other content on the internet is “corporate” and “professional?”

There’s a lot to consider when managing creative writers to get the most effective content possible for your brand. But the one place where the content development process breaks down most frequently is in revision. Some marketers expect perfection right out of the gate, but that’s not how trained writers work. 

In truth, feedback is a critical part of any written content. That’s especially true for content that’s the result of many minds coming together, from marketing professionals with specific goals to subject matter experts who possess the information your readers need to the writers who understand how to convey that information with the right emotion and tone to speak to what your readers really value.

Do writers really want feedback?

Feedback is something that every writer wants, and every writer dreads. Some know that they need it; others become stoically defensive. Most know and understand that what they’ve written the first time isn’t perfect. But many take feedback to heart, because it’s not just about fixing a particular piece. It’s about adjusting their writing styles overall to fit any future projects. Oftentimes, the way a writer takes feedback will tell you everything you need to know about them as professionals. Writers with experience will welcome feedback and, for the most part, take it without ego or emotion. Those without an education or without professional experience may be a little less receptive. Though that’s not always the case.

What kind of feedback do writers need?

Regardless of your writer’s disposition, in order to be helpful, your managerial feedback has to be specific. There’s no saying, “This doesn’t pop,” or “This just isn’t right,” or “I want this to be more electric!” That’s not good feedback for a writer. Unfortunately, that’s the sort of feedback many writers are used to receiving from managers who aren’t also editors.

Often, people expect writers to glean what they mean when they say that a piece of content isn’t working for them. Thing is: They aren’t psychics. A writer does what he or she can to understand your business before writing. Feedback is much more efficient if you familiarize yourself with the type of feedback a writer needs. 

As a manager of a writer, it’s your job to be a good editor. Even if you hire a whole team of writers (something I strongly recommend), as a marketing professional in charge of your brand’s campaigns you’ll still need to serve in an editorial role. That means learning how to make a writer’s work better without making it what you would have written. It means knowing the difference between real grammatical rules and your own personal preferences. It means learning how to criticize with the goal of building a writer up to be better next time, not cutting them down to make them afraid of future failure.

Suggestions and tips to give helpful feedback:

  • Be as specific as possible. If it’s a word that doesn’t feel right, note it. If it’s a paragraph that doesn’t flow well, mark the whole thing. List what’s wrong with it: was it a rough transition from the previous paragraph? Or does the voice drastically change? 

  • Don’t exaggerate. Writers often hear that an entire article is terrible when, in reality, they’re able to fix it by adjusting a few sentences. When you say an entire article is bad, that means they’re going to start from scratch, when often they don’t need to go to those extremes. 

  • “I want this piece to be happier” doesn’t tell a writer anything. What you probably mean is, “Use more exclamation points!” Think about what it is that you’re really after.

  • Unless you simply don’t trust your writer, don’t question grammar. Trust that their background in writing has provided them enough knowledge to use grammar in a proper way—at least for the internet. Do, however, look for typos and errors that sometimes happen when knocking out lots of content. Often, those errors will take the form of extra or missing words in sentences, misspelled words that made it through the spellchecker, and punctuation mistakes.

  • Along those lines: Writers do overlook typos sometimes. Writers who work alone often aren’t working with editors to help them catch small errors. They rely on you to do that for them. Unless they run rampant, this shouldn’t be a reason to question their validity as a writer. Trust me: when a writer sees a typo they left in, they feel terrible about it.

  • Unless it’s absolute garbage, try to find something positive about the piece. The writer can use that to build the rest of the piece into something more along the lines of what you’re thinking. If something needs to change, sometimes it’s easier to tell the writer what does work than to tell them all the things that don’t.

  • Ultimately, a writer will never be able to write something exactly like you would, and that’s a good thing. You’ve hired a writer for a reason. Give up some of the creative control, and beyond that, listen to your writer. If they wrote something a specific way, ask them why. If you still don’t like it, that’s fine, but there may be a way to figure out the message they tried to convey and meet in the middle.

Embrace the writing process.

Of course, revision is just one part of the complete writing process. If you’ve been spinning your tires trying to get writers to learn from their mistakes or pick up on the language your customers speak, you need a repeatable process for managing your content writers. Don’t miss my workshop at B2B Expo this October in California for insights and practical tips for giving your creative writers everything they need to succeed—and giving your campaigns the content they need to turn online readers into loyal customers.

Ryan Brock

Founder and CEO, 

Metonymy Media