The politics of copy Thursday June 25, 2009

I’m talking politics with a small ‘p’. I know copy can seem like something separate from the everyday politics of work. But after more than six years of writing for organisations of many kinds, I’ve realised this just isn’t so. This was news at a solicitors I recently did some work for. It was a project to develop brochure copy and strapline ideas. At the end of it, one of the partners expressed his surprise at the complexity of getting final approvals from colleagues. That’s a solicitor talking. And they’re used to things being complicated!

It wasn’t the actual writing that proved small ‘p’ political, but getting agreements on it. Why? After all, developing copy is just a matter of putting words together, isn’t it? Incorrect (as one of my friends likes to say). It’s the trickier business of finding the words that stand for a company, that can go out and properly represent its values and interests. So a discussion about copy almost inevitably becomes a discussion about an organisation’s beliefs and views and how these should be seen. Here are some thoughts on keeping the process straightforward and making sure your copy gets everyone’s vote.

Choose a boss
We’re all aware of how much leadership matters in politics, aren’t we? Make sure there’s someone in your organisation overseeing the copy process and linking with your copywriter. They can also keep track of views on your copy as it develops.

Be clear about what’s in and what’s out
Is it OK to mention that new service or is it off limits till next year? Agree from the start what messages aren’t going to be included. This prevents confusion – and complex changes – further down the line.

Don’t forget the power behind the throne
Is there anyone else who needs to be included in the approvals process? Think about the chain of command and make sure the ‘silent leaders’ aren’t forgotten!

Order, order!
Clear boundaries are the best way to prevent political wranglings. Getting agreement from colleagues for your copy is important, but so is getting the project completed. Set clear deadlines for amendments and final approvals.

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