In-house copywriter or copywriting agency?

Copywriting agency vs In-houseThere comes a time in the life of many businesses where the demand for new content, from product descriptions and blogs to white papers and email, exceeds your internal capacity.

At that point the decision between recruiting an in-house copywriter or copywriting team and working with a copywriting agency rears its head.

As someone who currently runs a successful copywriting agency I have to declare a bias, but I think there are some important issues that are often overlooked by brands and organisations when making a decision about their copywriting requirements.

When should you hire a copywriter or copywriting agency?

According to 2014 report by the Content Marketing Institute:

“55 percent of B2B businesses are challenged with producing enough content, and 47 percent are struggling to produce the kind of content that engages.”

Clearly the need for content is exceeding the ability of the average business to produce it.

So, is this the right time to hire a copywriter in-house or outsource? If you’re asking, then the answer is likely a resounding ‘yes!’

Scale production with your content need

One of the key reasons for outsourcing content projects to an agency is the fact that they can scale production up or down depending on your content needs.

This is one advantage to outsourcing your copywriting – an in-house content person can’t scale their workload up, and it doesn’t make sense for them to be sitting at their desk twiddling their thumbs.

There can be natural lulls at various times of the year for some businesses, and it’s natural for many content producers in your business to want some time off for family or other reasons.

This can create a pinch point in your content production cycle, leaving a higher workload for later.

Again, this is where an outsourced copywriter can help.

What should you look for in a copywriter?

Of course, the basics of writing are a given, but great written content requires a knowledge of expression and tone that go beyond basic grammar. (You’d be surprised how many ‘copywriters’ wouldn’t know an idiom if it hit them in the face!)

Great copywriters know how to express a brand’s tone in ways that engage and ensnare the reader, effortlessly.

  • Are they experienced in your sector or a similar market?
  • Are they recommended by businesses you recognise?
  • Do they pay attention to detail (for example, in their emails and application/proposal)?

These are just a few of the questions you need to ask yourself when looking at any copywriter, whether you are outsourcing or hiring for in-house.

They will have a style. So make sure you read their work – a lot of it – and decide whether that style fits with the culture of your business and brand. There’s no use in hiring a witty humorist when you really need a serious salesperson.

If they are right for the job, you’ll know it.

Other than that, it’s the same criteria as for any job – reliability*, experience, expertise, rapport.

*Agencies may have an advantage here – if any of our freelance writers turn out to be unreliable, slow or otherwise difficult to work with we simply stop using them. Recruiting someone who looks good on paper and then turns out to be unreliable or requiring a high degree of management is a much less straightforward prospect.

In-house copywriters or outsource?

Putting the copywriting agency option to one side for a moment, when it comes to recruiting an in-house team of copywriters there are two main options:

  • Run a team of freelancer copywriters
  • Recruit a full-time copywriter or copywriters

Let’s first consider what’s involved in putting together a freelance copywriter team.

Recruiting a freelance copywriter

There may be a lot of freelance copywriters out there but you need to devote resources to finding and assessing the quality of candidates.

Unless you’re experienced in this it may be a bit of trial and error to find the right copywriters for you. Even if you only want a single freelance copywriter, you need to over-recruit to ensure that when freelancers go missing (that flexibility is their privilege) you have someone else who can fill the gap.

You also still need someone in-house to manage briefing, editing content and maintaining consistency across several different freelance copywriters – that may well require an investment in copywriting training so you can judge the quality of work appropriately and make sure the technical requirements of the content (keywords, grammar, spelling, content structure) are up to scratch.

You could of course directly employ your copywriters.

On the plus side, you have a permanent team of writers so you have security and consistency and can ensure that your content is always on-brand.

Turnaround on very urgent jobs might be slightly quicker as you can reallocate resources immediately as you need them. You may also value the idea of building a team and developing personnel long-term within your organisation.

Are the advantages of an in-house copywriting team actually disadvantages?

For many businesses – perhaps even most businesses – some of the apparent advantages of employing a copywriter or copywriting team are actually quite serious disadvantages. The idea of having a permanent team of copywriters where writing is not a core discipline of your company adds a heavy burden to your business both financially and in terms of your working practices.

Not only are there salaries to consider with the attendant holiday pay and National Insurance but you also need to bear in mind the indirect costs including desk space, equipment and the cost of recruitment.

Then there are the costs of management and perhaps even copywriting training. After all, if you are not used to managing copywriters someone within your organisation is going to have to know whether they are doing a good job for you or not. You also need a resource to manage delivery and publication and perhaps even provide an editorial function.

The latter is particularly important if you are embarking on large volumes of content.

The glaring disadvantage is:

Do you really want more employees on your books when you could get the same or better level of service by outsourcing to a copywriting agency?

It’s still tough out there.

A copywriting agency can offer you a level of flexibility that is impossible to achieve with an in-house writer: you can stop using them when things get quiet or you want to save money.

They can offer strategic services such as content strategy or copywriting training that an in-house copywriter may be unable to deliver. You can also pull in writers with different areas of expertise and experience as and when you need to.

To use a hackneyed phrase, you get more bang for your buck.

A copywriting agency won’t be as reliable or quick

I suppose it depends on whom you use but we offer a standard turnaround of 5 – 7 working days and for most clients we’re able to deliver urgent work even quicker, often in 24 hours.

If you’ve got an in-house team you can of course get them to drop everything and turn their attention to whatever you need.

That will have a knock-on effect on your other work but that immediate response is not something we can guarantee, so if you are an organisation that is constantly in crisis mode then you might be better off employing a writer (or employing someone to review your content strategy so it’s less stressful!)

I find the reliability argument a little specious. After all, I wouldn’t get much repeat business if I continually let my clients down. The very notion of running a copywriting agency is predicated on certain values of service, and reliability is a critical part of that service.

I would even go so far as to argue that we are more reliable than an in-house writing team.

If one of my writers goes sick, for example, I can immediately find someone else to take their place. If one of my writers leaves I can bring a new writer up to speed straight away, whereas a company with an in-house team would have the cost and inconvenience of recruitment and perhaps additional copywriting training for that new recruit.

Will an in-house copywriting team deliver better quality?

From our point of view – a point of view that is shared by many of our clients – some of the other apparent advantages of having an in-house team are based on misconceptions.

You could break these down into two statements:

  • “we can only get the right brand tone of voice by doing the copy in-house”
  • “the quality won’t be as good if we outsource.”

Both are untrue.

For a start many copywriting agencies write brand guidelines for their clients. Most brands are familiar with this service offered by ad agencies, design agencies and digital agencies and copywriting agencies are no different, except for the obvious leaning toward tone of voice and content strategy and less or no emphasis on design or AV.

Given that any copywriting agency worth its salt will have experience working with a huge variety of clients, a copywriting agency should actually be better versed in meeting brand guidelines than a newly recruited copywriting team.

With the second point, there should be no deterioration in quality. I’m not saying that the copywriters you recruit won’t be any good (although arguably I’m a lot better at recruiting freelance copywriters having done it many times over the last few years) but there’s absolutely no reason that a copywriting agency will deliver worse content than an in-house team.

Obviously you get what you pay for in both cases and expecting either an in-house or outsourced copywriter to deliver Pulitzer Prize-winning articles when you pay them 1p a word is unrealistic.

The bottom line is always the bottom line.

I’ve done quite a bit of maths around this – never my strong point – but I think that in many cases we’re a more cost effective option than taking on an in-house copywriter.

It’s often difficult to give a like-for-like comparison as companies frequently make a direct cost comparison between our quote and the rate they are going to pay an in-house copywriter, forgetting not only the financial costs of National Insurance and holiday pay but the costs involved in recruitment, training, management, editorial, shortfalls in efficiency due to tea breaks, equipment malfunction, illness and other human factors.

With a copywriting agency, you only pay for the content you’ve asked for – not our lunch breaks or broadband crises.

It’s also important for companies to understand what is humanly possible for their potential copywriters. In my experience a freelance copywriter can handle around 2000 – 2500 words of content in a day. And that’s pushing it. You want great research, interviews, creative thought or strategic input and it’s a lot less.

Copywriting does not suit production line dynamics. If you try and push copywriters to insanely high volumes the work will suffer – either in the short term (through repetition, lack of depth/research and typos) or in the longer term through total burnout.

OK, you’re biased – is in-house ever a better option?

The only time that we can’t be competitive is when we’re quoting against companies who use unpaid or low paid interns or choose to use overseas writers. And you have to ask yourself what kind of content you can expect for that.

If you’re of the mind set that wants to pay less than minimum wage for your greatest marketing asset then good luck to you. I’m not going to try and convince you otherwise.

Where access to physical product is a requirement for writing product descriptions then having someone actually in the office might be a help but we do actually receive physical product from one of our clients in order to write their product descriptions, so even that’s doable.

Alternatively we visit you and review your products at your organisation as we do for some of our fashion clients when they present their seasonal collections.

While cost is important, a copywriter can be a valuable part of your marketing team. That’s not to say we can’t do the job just as well and integrate into your working practices but it may be that your company culture likes new faces and that an in-house team is important to your ethos.

I’m obviously biased but at the very least try out the copywriting agency option before you commit time and money to recruiting permanent staff.

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How to leverage brand voice in short-form fashion content

How to leverage brand voice in short-form fashion content

brand voice

For any fashion brand that wants to stand out from the crowds of copycat e-tailers around on the internet today, it’s essential to create a strong brand voice. This voice should be one which distinctively ‘sounds like’ your company, and which constantly reinforces your unique selling propositions in language that your core audience can relate to.

But a common pitfall for fashion brands online is that they fail to capitalise on this brand voice sufficiently in all online areas. They put all the hard work into creating and honing their brand voice on their actual website, but then they pull back and miss the opportunity to further cement their brand image through all channels available to them. Where should you be using your brand voice? Everywhere.

Make your voice heard

As with real life speaking, your online voice is highly noticeable when you speak at length, for example in your web content, your blogs and product descriptions. But it is no less noticeable when you speak for a very brief time, as is the case with short-form content such as PPC ads and posts on Twitter and Facebook. Just as everyone pays attention to a person who speaks briefly but convincingly and with confidence, web users pay attention to brands that communicate solidly and authentically in a small space amid the constant thrum and chatter of the internet.

Getting your key messages across in your short-form content

Conveying your brand voice in a set number of characters is a far greater challenge than doing so in a 400-word webpage, but any professional and experienced web copywriter should be up to the task. The key thing here is to ensure that you communicate your core messages, your preferred brand style and tone of voice to your copywriters, whether they’re working in-house or are from an outside copywriting agency.

Creating a brand style guide and tone of voice document is the best solution for this, and once created you can easily distribute it to all of your content creators.  By issuing concrete details of things like word choice and stylistic issues, along with actual examples, providing you work with skilled professional copywriters, you should be able to replicate your brand voice consistently across all forms of content, long or short.

The importance of brand voice in PPC ads and social posts

One could argue that it’s even more important to talk in a distinctive brand voice in short-form content. Once people are on your website, you’ve already got their attention to some extent. Out there in the PPC ads such as Google Adwords though, you’re just one small voice alongside not only organic search results but rival paid results too. If people spot a voice they recognise amongst the chaotic clamour, they’re more likely to pay attention to you, and once you’ve got their attention, they’re more likely to click through to your site.

Similarly on social media networks, your posts are just one voice amongst many. It is therefore important that you communicate compellingly and consistently at all times. By crafting such a voice, you may find that people actually look forward to your updates, and that can only be good news.

If you can maintain a steady brand voice across all channels, in long and short-form, you will strengthen your overall online presence, resulting in greater reach and more conversions.

If you’d like to have a friendly chat about short-form web content and brand voice, feel free to get in touch with us at Big Star Copywriting for a friendly chat today.

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How to make your food product descriptions tastier

Food copywriter

As an online food retail business, you probably spend a long time either creating your own products to make them as mouth-wateringly delicious as they can be, or assembling the kind of product ranges that culinary dreams are made of. And that’s great, but people can’t taste your products through the screen, and unless they’ve sampled them before they really don’t know what they taste like or why they should buy them. For that reason, it really is critical that you invest in product descriptions which are every bit as tasty as the products themselves.

Beyond the first bite…

As the cliche goes, the first bite is with the eye, and you do need to have professionally taken high quality photographs of all your products. But food is about so much more than aesthetics, and to effectively sell it online you really need to engage your customers’ senses. A photo won’t do it, but exceptional food copywriting can and should give the customer a good idea of what actually eating the product would be like. Just as you invest in the best food photographers to make your products stand out, you should also invest in skilled food copywriters who can bring the tastes of your offerings to the fore. Lets take a look at the main components of successful food copywriting.

Aroma – Smell is perhaps the most powerful of all our senses, and we’ve all experienced moments when a scent has carried us off down memory lane. Good food copywriting plays on the strength of this primal sense, with words like fresh, minty, aromatic and fragrant mixing well with comparative similes borrowed from other areas of language.

Taste – Taste is of course of paramount importance in any culinary product description, and a professional food copywriter knows how to use it to sing seductive siren songs to the taste buds of those reading. As well as describing the nature of the taste with words like sweet, savoury, astringent or chocolatey, good food copywriting can also provide indicators of the extent and intensity of these tastes. For someone looking to buy a curry meal kit for example, whether the product is mild, hot, spicy, fiery or ferocious is of supreme relevance.

Texture – When you put something in your mouth, you don’t just taste it, you feel it. You sense whether it’s crunchy, chewy, supple, hard, tender or smooth. Including textures in your product descriptions enriches the mental visualisation of the food in the imagination of the reader.

Nuts and bolts – Hopefully there aren’t actual nuts and bolts in your dishes (though if there are be sure to point it out –, but you should be careful that you don’t get so carried away in waxing lyrical about the food poetry that your products create that you forget to say what is actually in them. Some people are particularly fond of certain ingredients, while some may dislike them with a passion, or even suffer from digestive problems because of them. Being clear about what your food contains will entice the first group, and prevent the other two from making a purchasing mistake that turns them off your entire brand.

Adding depth – People like eating food that has a story. So if your food is the result of a family recipe handed down through generations, or if it’s been developed over many years by top chefs, or sourced from a seldom explored corner of the world, be sure to highlight these origins.

Cooking up a brand image

Each of your product descriptions should help to build a picture of your wider brand, while also standing out on their own. If you can latch onto some broad themes within your offerings and then blend these into all of your product descriptions, you can strengthen the impact of your website as a whole, improve brand recognition and make each individual description work harder towards conversions.

At Big Star Copywriting we love writing about food, so get in touch whether you need a little advice on spicing up your web content or you need us to inject a little flavour into your product descriptions.

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Five steps towards building a compelling brand story

brand copywriterWhatever sector you’re part of, if you want to be a recognisable and respected part of it, you need to build a solid brand story. If you want a place at the top of your particular food chain and you want conversions by the virtual bucket-load though, you need to make your brand story irresistibly compelling. It needs to suck customers in and make them say, “Yes! This company gets it, so I’m happy to give them my business.” Here are five steps to help your business achieve this goal.

  1. Make sure your web copywriters understand your USPs

In order for your brand to communicate its story effectively, the people who are responsible for creating your content must fully understand what your business is all about. This is particularly important if your business is outsourcing some or all of its content to a copywriting agency or an external web copywriter. An effective way of ensuring that all of your copywriters understand what they need to communicate and how to do so is to create a brand tone of voice and style guide.

  1. Leverage your history to create depth

A brand story, unsurprisingly, needs a story. That story should involve the consumer, but at its heart should be the history of your brand. Not a dry sleep-inducing list of key dates and events, but something more organic – you need to weave your history into a gripping story with depth and nuance. Even if your company was only founded five years ago, it has an origin and an intention behind it, important milestones, challenges that have been overcome, and no doubt aspirations for the future. These should form the backbone of your brand story, and should be tied together into a coherent narrative with rising actions and satisfactory conclusions.

  1. Back up your core values with concrete examples

It’s easy to say that you are committed to delivering good customer service, are driven towards keeping prices low, or have a veritable shedload of experience in your field. But unless you back these assertions up with something they may be difficult to believe. Be specific and tell your customers how your actions and achievements are in line with the way you talk about yourself. If for example exceptional customer service is one of your core values, tell people about the training procedures your staff go through, provide details of customer satisfaction surveys, or supply quotes from satisfied customers.

  1. Create an enemy

A few weeks ago we looked at the role that an enemy can play in an effective brand story. An enemy, or antagonist, makes a story interesting – it gives the protagonist – you – a quest to succeed in, and this can be very compelling to readers. Your enemy could be your overpriced counterparts in general, it could be the inconvenience experienced by customers prior to purchasing your product, or it could be the stress of everyday living that your package holidays can provide an antidote for.

  1. Align your brand image with your most crucial value

Finally, you should determine what is most important about your brand image – what one thing expresses succinctly who you are and what is important to you as an online business? Once you’ve done that, you should find ways to express this consistently throughout your content, so making that value an integral part of how you appear to the outside world.

If you need help crafting a brand story that will deliver success to your online business, get in touch with Big Star Copywriting today.

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How email copywriting fits into the email marketing lifecycle

Funnels. They’re all the rage. Sexy opt ins, pop ups everywhere, lead magnets, tripwires… but for it all to work successfully you need compelling email copywriting.

Before email copywriting: you’ve done your groundwork right?

Let’s just assume – although maybe we shouldn’t – that you’ve got a killer value proposition and an awesome unique selling point. You’ve spent your time writing your brand story so you can easily get across the values and vision you’ve got to that perfectly targeted customer that you’ve identified so accurately that it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

What next? Here’s our quick guide to where email copywriting fits into your campaign.

Opt In: Baiting the hook

First of all, you’ve got to get people to sign up to your email newsletter. What’s your bait? Free reports, how to guides, white papers – they can all benefit from the expertise of a professional copywriter. A good copywriter can give you a fresh perspective and help you to generate content that not only delivers the perceived value you need to encourage sign up but the real value that keeps readers engaged and interested.

Capture: A Warm Welcome

Once you’ve got your sign-up to your email newsletter what do you do with them? Well, that depends, but a nice, warm thank you message appropriate to your business might be a good start.

And while you’re at it why not start the beginning of your beautiful relationship with a little surprise? Free content, free advice, an introductory offer, a discount – an unexpected bonus just for signing up can get things off to a great start.

Engage: Overcome Doubts

There’s no point sending out email newsletters that never get opened. A bad subject line might get your newsletter slung straight in the spam bin or, if it does get through, straight in the trash.

You may already know what your open rates are – the question is are they good enough?

That one sentence might be the most important bit of email copywriting in the whole campaign, especially if you’re marketing direct to new customers through third party opt ins or mailing list rental.

Communicate: Start The Conversation

Engaging your customers isn’t just about the subject line of your creative. It’s about content – the meat of your email newsletter. Give your customers something useful, or interesting, or amusing but make sure it’s appropriate to your business and in line with your objectives.

The online world is all about relevance. The alignment of customer need with a seamless chain of relevance that leads from keyword, to web page, to content, to conversion is as close to you can get to a recipe for success. How do you deliver relevance in an email newsletter? Personalise and customise your content. Use your metrics to understand your customers then give them the content that is most relevant to them.

Clickthrough: Make The Conversion

Content for content’s sake is ineffective – your email has to work for a living by delivering sales (or donations, or votes…)

Absolutely give your customers something great to read but make sure they are acting on your email. Not only will a good email copywriter help you to answer the question ‘why am I sending this?’ but they can also create compelling calls to action so you get the results you want.

Be in it for the long-term: Everybody’s different.

Some of your customers will buy one thing and never buy anything from you again; some will carry on buying from you again and again. Others will actively engage with your newsletters for years before eventually deciding to part with hard earned cash.

One aspect of email copywriting and email marketing in general that is often overlooked is the steady drip-drip effect, the persistent mailing of high value, relevant content, the analysis, segmentation and testing.

People that do email marketing well know that, to cultivate loyalty and trust and to get your customers to be there for you when you most need them (at an event, a promotion, a new product) you need to develop a long-term relationship.

This is based on consistency, reliability and continuity. So if you want to deliver that you need an email copywriter that is in it for the long haul.

Find out more about our email copywriting services 


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A Recipe for success? – Jamie Oliver’s brand story deconstructed

In the sixteen years since he hit the nation’s TV screens as ‘The Naked Chef’, Jamie Oliver’s empire has grown to encompass 30 TV series, almost twenty cookbooks, five restaurant brands, cookery schools, kitchenware ranges and numerous apps. Worth an estimated £150million globally, Oliver’s stable of brands are respected throughout the world, and the attachment […]

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Does an online brand story really need a good enemy?

Enemies and villains make stories more interesting, and interesting stories are stories that sell. So find your enemy and set about defeating it in your online marketing.

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How do two of today’s biggest digital travel booking firms tell their brand story?

Who are the giants of the digital travel world, and what can you do to compete? Here we look at two of the biggest – and – and examine how they communicate their brand stories.

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Beyond product descriptions: How Yoox communicates its brand story online

Product descriptions demand care and attention, and should be an extension of your brand. But they’re not the only important area to leverage your brand. One brand that appears to understand this is Yoox, the Italian-owned online fashion, art and design retailer.

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Sealing the deal: E-commerce copywriting and the perfect checkout page

Once your customers have found your page, browsed through your products, decided that you can be trusted and actually chosen something that they want to buy, all that stands between you and a sale is your checkout page. Follow these tips to make sure that your checkout page is effective…

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