When is it right for designers to write?

The DBA’s head of services Adam Fennelow considers when designers should write and when they should call on the services of professional writers.

Close up of classic yellow pencils on turquoise table. This file is cleaned and retouched.

I recently received a tweet (from a professional writer) commenting on a DBA course helping consultancies develop and write content marketing. The writer’s argument will be familiar to many a designer – “leave it to the professionals”. This is a phrase many DBA members will level at their own clients when it comes to design.

However, most consultancies cannot afford to employ a full time writer, so this got me thinking – when is it right to write?

No one would question that in most business situations bringing in an expert in the field produces better results than a DIY approach, and the value of a professional writer is undoubted. But does this imply that designers should not write? What of all that expertise, passion and opinion sitting in their heads?

“Your content is there to open doors”

After all, says content marketing strategist, Ian Rhodes, from Brand Less Ordinary: “Your content is there to open your doors and show your potential customers what makes your agency tick. It provides you with the opportunity to show your audience the value and identity of your agency. It helps you show people why what you make matters.” Could it be that those at the coalface within your business are perfectly placed to deliver this? Can what is lacked in writing talent, be made up for with passion and insight?

Pancentric head of marketing Joe Carstairs says that one of the biggest advantages of an “all-in approach” where everyone on the team is involved in content marketing is “the brand amplification it can create”, meaning that, “employees who evangelise about their company are a powerful new business tool.”

He also sees it as a great way to capitalise on under-utilised resource. “Sharing the content marketing load around a consultancy is a great way to fill any dips in production. While the content created by people with different skillsets adds diversity to what is generated,” he says.

To be successful however, it does all have to stem out of a good content marketing strategy that is well thought through and implemented in a considered manner. But says Carstairs, once that is in place then “a simple style guide, some clear content pillars and a bit of editorial oversight is all your colleagues need to get going.”

Some writers must be employed

There are, of course, some consultancies which sell their ability to help clients with their own content marketing. In cases like this it is imperative that writers are employed – so it makes sense for them to also be utilised in the promotion of the consultancy.

ThinkBDA is a Buckingham based creative consultancy offering design and marketing services. These services include helping clients with their content. ThinkBDA managing director David Knowles says, “Content writing is a skill – it is about crafting words in such a way as to draw people into a subject.”

“Having an in-house content person gives flexibility allowing us to be more reactive when faced with creative client challenges,” says Knowles, who adds: “Just because someone doesn’t have ‘writer’ in their job title doesn’t mean they can’t produce content. Our whole team can contribute in what is often a team effort.”

What to write about?

First up, ask yourself (and your agency as a whole): “Why do we want to produce content? What image are we trying to portray?”

If what you are talking about has no bearing on:
a. Positioning you and your business as experts in your field,
b. Raising your profile among your peers within your industry, then stop right there. You are wasting your time. Similarly a tweet saying “We offer great design at competitive prices” is not going to get a potential client clicking through.

If you find yourself spending all your time writing about 1060’s Japanese Manga, but are unable to link it to your client base then I suggest you carry on doing this within the confines of your own personal blog far removed from your business.

Content should be audience relevant and you need to find the issues that affect both you as a business and your clients – preferably at the same time. They are pretty broad – customer engagement, client relationships, return on investment. Then delve into the more sector specific issues depending on your client base.

“Give clients a reason to choose you”

To get started find a trusted source that deals with issues affecting you and use them for inspiration. Newcastle-based Wonderstuff founder Paul Alderson says: “We often look at the DBA for inspiration – up and coming events on their website, their ezine – then we ask ourselves ‘What is our opinion on that subject?’ Our staff are not writers – but they are communicators. The more they write the better they get and it equips them to form their own opinions, something we have always encouraged.

“Once you have a clear idea of who you are targeting and what values you want to align yourselves with, it becomes easy. By putting your beliefs out there you give clients a reason to choose you, a consultancy that does great work, but also has the same outlook as the client.”

To broaden the content output from your consultancy you need to trust your staff to illustrate their expertise, opinions and passion. But as Alderson says, you need a clear strategy in place – one that has been developed in conjunction with your positioning and new business plans. This takes time and consideration, but can produce fantastic rewards for a consultancy looking to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace.
Adam Fennelow is Head of Services at the DBA. 

Hide Comments (4)Show Comments (4)
  • Temenouzhka Zaharieva August 31, 2016 at 10:54 am

    “leave it to the professionals” – I agree, but if you are also a design profesional and design writer? I think that in order to write well about design one has to be not just well informed, but also to have the attitude and experience in order to understand properly all the details and real value of the work he/she is writing about. I know from experience that being a professional in both fields helps tremendously.

  • Peter Mills August 31, 2016 at 11:44 am

    I agree with Wonderstuff’s Paul Alderson. There’s little point in putting stuff out there if there is no means to an end. A content strategy needs to further enable a business strategy and plan. Although, few of our clients, let alone agencies, have one of the former or even know what it might look like.

    Of course, designers, but also project managers and strategists, are full of amazing ideas and interesting ways to tell their stories and offer their perspectives, and this doesn’t have to be written. Joe Carstairs is spot on, to my mind. Their authenticity enhances an agency’s own brand.

    But, take care.

    Trained writers know grammar, can spell, understand the nuances of punctuation, are skilled at producing a concise edit and can proofread. Clients looking at content need to be reassured that this attentiveness is part of an agency’s offer. We have all seen misspellings, dodgy grammar and lousy punctuation in presumably signed-off designs in shop-window promotions, packaging, online editorial and even signage. If tweets, prospective employees’ CVs, proposals and even agencies’ own websites are anything to go by, then perhaps you should think twice before publishing. It could have a negative impact rather than a positive one, especially when making a case to a would-be client who is obsessed with attention to detail.

    My point. Understand what a content strategy is and create one that includes how you’ll develop content that matches your ambitions as a business. Decide if written content is the best way to tell the story. If it is, write the content, but recognise who in your agency can be trusted with an edit and can proofread. And, if there isn’t anyone, who would be a willing trusted friend to help. Failing that, find a professional writer or proofreader who will make sure it’s spot on every time, or invest in a little training. The effort pays off.

  • Hugh Beardesmore Billings September 1, 2016 at 10:50 pm

    Quantity is not quality, passion is not precision, content is not craft. Sure some designers can write, just as some writers can draw. But there are reasons talent works differently. If you can’t see that, and can’t support that – what message will your clients really read.

  • Adam Fennelow September 2, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Good comments, thank you Temenouzhka and Peter.
    I particularly like the pertinent advice from Peter. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Make sure nothing goes out the door without someone else having checked it. I am always sending discreet emails to agencies to point out typos on their website. I even found one the other day with a whole paragraph of lorem ipsum.
    Peter’s final point, “invest in a little training” is also a good one. The DBA runs courses specifically for design agencies – including ones on content marketing – but you can find others. Investment in your business through training is essential for your business to progress. You can’t learn everything “on the job”.

  • Post a comment

Latest articles