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Crafting collaborative editorial: Align your priorities for success

With so many people involved in creating and approving copy, it can be difficult to maintain coherence and quality. A watertight brief will be your saviour.

Companies have brand guidelines to adhere to and, in the case of some clients, technical knowledge that I’m in no position to argue with. This inevitably leads to a collaborative approach to copy, with edits flying back and forth and the occasional contentious passage.

An editor should always avoid cliché, so I promise not to mention cooks and the inverse relationship between their number and the quality of their broth. But like every hackneyed old phrase, it does contain a kernel of truth. The person who quipped that “a camel is a horse designed by committee”, clearly agrees.

By the time a paragraph has been edited to rigidly align with the brand, include exhaustive technical information, and accommodate the opinions of four people, it doesn’t so much resemble an actual camel as one sketched by Picasso. So, how can we ensure that everybody gets their input and we still publish a thoroughbred?

Without wishing to sound like a marriage counsellor, it’s all about communication. And once you’re at the review stage, it’s too late. If you leave it until then to discuss things properly, you leave yourself open to both parties having wildly different expectations. Your saviour, in this case, is the brief. If both parties agree on a comprehensive brief, you will avoid nasty surprises later. The four pivotal parts of any brief are persona, pillar, outline and call-to-action. And here’s why each part is so important.

Persona

I’ve trumpeted the value of audience personas before and, I like to think, with good reason. Your client should already be well acquainted with the personas you’re working with and the reasons they were created. By agreeing on the reasons that you’re targeting this audience segment with this piece of content, it will help to focus everybody’s mind and ensure there are no debates later. Demonstrate why this persona will want to read the piece and what value they will gain from it.

Pillar

Another important piece of the editorial framework that should have come from the strategy phase of your project is the pillars. These three overarching themes have been selected because they are so important that every piece of content you create must fall within them. Discuss how your content piece fits into one of these pillars and which of the existing sub-pillars it falls within, too. Ensure that everybody is happy with how the piece fits into your content eco-system before the writing starts.

Outline

At this stage of the process, I must offer a clear idea of the structure the piece will take and the key discussion points within it, to ensure my client is happy. We must establish if there are any key discussion points which either must or must not be mentioned in the piece, or if there is any key messaging of which the writer must be aware. By getting maximum input from everyone involved at this point, we can avoid frantic emails later. If either side has vehement views about the direction of the piece, now is the time to mention them.

Call-to-action

The CTA is the driving force behind every piece of content and should influence everything that’s written before it. Whether you want to lead readers to deep-dive content such as an eBook or send them to a product page. If the writer has that in mind throughout the piece, you can ensure the transition from content to CTA is a smooth one. With both sides agreed on the correct destination for readers and how the piece will encourage them there, you will know that everyone involved in creating the piece is united around a common goal.

Enjoy the easy life

Well, not quite. But with all these factors discussed at the briefing stage, it reduces so much potential for disappointment later. There will of course always be differences of opinion and the need for compromise at all stages of the creative process. But by creating something approaching consensus.

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