How to Request Copy Edits from Clients

About a month ago, I received a request from a client. They had just recently begun reviewing our copy, and they wanted some clarification on a few sources we used. Here’s the catch: we wrote the copy nearly three years ago. Copy edits from clients can come at any time, and in any form… unless you know how to rein it in.

Personally? I had no idea how to rein it in. My first few content creation projects involved clients who loved anything we wrote. I enjoyed the process of creating something, sending it to the client, getting some compliments, and moving forward.

When I entered the healthcare world, things got more complicated. Legal teams, compliance, and subject matter experts added rounds of review. And as I worked with more clients, I found that client feedback was difficult to anticipate. A round of feedback could mean a vague comment or two, a compliment, or a highly subjective line-by-line edit.

How do you plan for that in a project?

Treat Clients as Partners

At Mad*Pow we think of our clients as partners. We want to work with them collaboratively. But content reviews can be a ton of work, which is something that clients don’t often think about in advance. As a result, the client who said “I’d like to be an active part of the project and review every content element for our new site/app/portal” during the sales conversations may suddenly realize that he or she has accidentally added 20 hours a week to their workload.

And when time is crunched, it seems as though those clients are more likely to tell us what they do and don’t like about our copy, and not whether the copy achieves its goals.

That’s… bad.

I’ve had well meaning clients tell me they have no edits whatsoever, and then come back weeks or months later and admit they never looked at any of the work, and now have questions. (That’s actually what happened with the client who came back three years later!) I’ve had other clients who focused entirely on subjective line edits, and ignore the actual edits we needed, such as “is this in the right voice?” or “does this accurately describe your product?”

The takeaway? Clients are often overwhelmed and busy… just like Subject Matter Experts. So at some point we decided the solution might be to treat them that way.

Treat Clients as Experts

My team set out to apply the same rules to clients that we apply to SMEs. As I suggest in my article, How to Work with an SME:

  • Ask the SME to prepare and give a 10min overview of the topic as an introduction. This can be done for both content and design teams, and serves as a great short intro.
  • Next, schedule a brainstorming session where the content team and SME together come up with ideas for the articles, tips, or other content required. Make sure any guidelines are shared with the SME before this brainstorm begins.
  • Now it’s time for writing. Figure out what information you can’t write on your own, and have the SME draft this.
  • Plan time to revise what the SME wrote, for tone and voice.
  • Write everything else yourself, and have the SME review it. Make sure to clarify that this review is for accuracy, not tone or language preference. Encourage the SME to explain why he or she recommends changes, so that you can understand for the future.

The problem is, clients like to have more ownership than SMEs. More than that – they do have more ownership. Ultimately, we may create the original content, but they own it, control it, and can do what they like with it. We need them on board – not acting as isolated voices, filling out a form.

We needed an approach that was as structured as our SME approach, but specific to receiving copy edits from clients.

How to Plan for Copy Edits from Clients

Our new approach comes with special thanks to the Content Strategy Facebook Group. It turns out that many content creators have struggled with getting clients to move away from “like/don’t like” in favor of a focus on “is it understandable” and “is it in our voice.” When I asked for suggestions, ideas, and examples, they responded.

Here is some of the feedback I received:

  • “Documented voice, tone and visual guides are a good first step!”
  •  “I include a bit of a comment guideline on what to comment on and what not to depending on the stage of work.”
  • “A process reminder is another good tool. We start all creative reviews with a process set up to guide appropriate feedback.”
  • “I have created various checklists for different reviewers. I am very prescriptive about what they should check for. SMEs get questions about accuracy and clarity. Editors get questions around messaging and grammar. I also give them an overview of what I’m NOT looking for, with assurances that another reviewer will be looking for [those things].” –Amber Fisher Walters
  • “At the start of a project I like to do review and edits face-to-face/on a call with a screenshare. That way you can head off anything that comes down to taste, and really dig into the more meaningful feedback.” –Lauren Pope

With this in mind, we’re creating a checklist for clients. It will include:

  • An introduction:
    • A written overview of the types of feedback we need, and why
    • An estimate of how much time these reviews should take
  • The checklist itself
    • Is the content understandable?
    • Does it flow?
    • Is it in your voice and tone?
    • Does it align with your objectives?
    • For all items, if the answer is no, please highlight areas where this item is a problem
  • Notes
    • We will share this checklist before beginning any rounds of revisions
    • We will review the first round of content in person (or via screenshare) with clients

What else should we include? Leave a comment!

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