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What to say when the first content draft is “blah”

What to say when the first content draft is “blah”

Slack and Company | July 6, 2017

It is a super uncomfortable moment for any marketer.

The content developer on your team has dutifully met his or her deadline for a first draft. You pop open the document from your email and give it a first glance just to make sure it’s in the ballpark.

And it is, well, just ok. Maybe a shade less than ok if you’re being honest.

Not that the content is “off” strategically speaking, mind you. The topic is exactly what you asked for. Everything is accurate and well argued. It reflects the overall narrative flow everyone agreed to when you started the project.

It’s just not compelling.

So now, it's up to you to convey that feedback to another human being whom you respect and quite possibly, even hired.

As a former agency copywriter, regular content developer and daily reviewer of client and agency content from a strategic standpoint, the author has taken the same walks around the block and swallowed the same antacids.

The reality is that no content developer can be expected to draft super resonant assets the first try every time. We know we don’t (this is the fourth draft of the post FWIW).

Here are three things you can do to provide constructive and respectful feedback to the content developers in your life while still having pleasant conversations at the water cooler.

1. Go back to the target audience

Rather than try and explain why the content is not resonating with you, ask yourself if it would resonate with the target audience and, specifically, why or why not.

Assuming it is still a “why not” situation, use that to begin writing your suggestions.

What does your target really need to learn about the subject at hand? What are the stakes for her or him if they don’t? What would they gain if they did absorb and implement the content?

This framework will allow you to provide objective advice that the content developer can react to, looking for a new hook, a shift in tone, a more scannable layout, etc.

2. Collaborate, don’t dictate

Up against the stress of deadlines, it is natural for a content editor to try and get a project back on track by showing the content developer an example of some other content that does what you want. Similar to how the person who we asked to look at this article did for us.

Careful there.

Asking a content developer to mimic something else mid-stream into a project not only shows a lack of confidence that can harm your relationship, but the “solution” you present may not even be the best approach to your particular project.

Instead, set up time with your content developer to discuss your feedback in terms of resonance to the target audience and then ask if the two of you might brainstorm for 15-20 minutes.

Having a chance to throw some ideas on the old whiteboard together in the service of making the bones of a piece more compelling is much more likely to both lead to a solid content asset. It will also will endear you to the content developer—they will see you as a partner, not just a critic.

3. Give the gift of time if you can

We are in the business of ideas in content creation. And we all strive to deliver the goods every time.

When genius fails to strike in the first draft, what can help more than anything is adding an extra day or two if possible to the schedule.

For most of us, the final deadline can’t/won’t move. So, without panicking and resorting to taking matters in to your own hands, now is the time to call in favors.

Can the designer or programmer shave a day off their timeline? Can QA be done same day or over the weekend if needed?

The occasional team sacrifice in the interest of helping a fellow content developer get unstuck will not only get you a better piece, it smooths the feedback process as the content developer trusts that you will do whatever you can to help them succeed.

And what if they don’t hit the mark on the second go-around? We’ll save that for another post.

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