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It’s a truth universally acknowledged in the business world, that what people say and what they really mean are often two very different things. This cheat sheet will help you spot the real meaning behind your next content marketing brief.

In a Trumpian era of alternative facts, ‘doublespeak’ may very well feel like the new status quo. But often, it’s just the result of too much time in meetings for the sake of meetings, and not enough time actually thinking about what’s required to do the do-ing.

The result? Call in someone at the last possible second, dump some fluffy thinking dressed up in abstract language on them, and hope they’ll go away, work out what the hell actually needs to be done, and produce it. Overnight.

In some Utopian fantasy future world, it might indeed be possible to put that request into a machine, crank a handle, and see a perfectly formed piece of content pop out the other end. But unfortunately, I haven’t invented the Content Churn-inator™. Yet.

So if this situation sounds familiar, read on.*

#1 “This is a really bold visual idea, so it just needs a light amount of copy.”

They have no idea. No idea what the message is. No idea where to find the info you might need to work it out. And no idea what they want (but luckily, they’ll know it when they see it). So could you please make something up that sounds good? And quickly? For no budget?

#2 “We need you to interview the CEO before you start writing.”

They’re only producing this to keep the boss happy – it’s nothing but vanity content. The CEO will then take two months to go through six rounds of detailed track changes, down to the last Oxford comma.

#3 “I’ll send you the brief next week, but could you send me a quick quote now?”

Let me break this to you gently. You will never get a brief. But they’ll still expect a high-quality 1,500-word story by next Tuesday.

#4 “This project is a journey.”

You mean this journey is a steep descent into hell – for everyone. They’ll need to spend 99.5% of their time managing 36 different stakeholders through 10 stages of approvals, which leaves 0.5% of their time to brief you and read what you actually produce.

#5 “We want to put the audience first.”

In other words, make sure you mention the product in every paragraph or Bob in sales will never approve it. And no, they have no idea what ‘leveraging global best of breed technology platforms’ actually means for their customers either.

#6 “I saw this infographic in a magazine yesterday, can we do something like this?”

Warning bells! Random act of content approaching – and it does not fit in with your content plan, editorial mission or timeline.

#7 “It’s just a quick finesse of a piece our director wrote.”

Get ready for a self-satisfying, long-winded, jargon-filled brain dump that requires a serious amount of time and writing surgery to get on track. (But the director will still prefer her version better.)

#8 “We need the story to reflect our innovative brand persona and corporate culture”.

Rookie mistake. No one really cares about your culture (beyond HR). They’ve completely forgotten what their product or service actually does, who they’re writing for and what the story is meant to achieve.

#9 “When do you think you can fit it in?”

See that terror in their eyes? That means they forgot about it, and it was supposed to go live last Tuesday.

#10 “My content marketing isn’t working – it must be the writing.”

Actually, the problem is they forgot to promote, distribute and measure it. Unfortunately, content is not a case of ‘build it and they will come’ – readers don’t just stumble upon these gems and say ‘wow, I’ve been waiting my whole life to read this.’ (It pains me to say this as a writer, but it’s true.)

Creating the content is only half the job. The other half involves a whole lot of thinking at one end, and then proactively and continually improving it at the other. I guarantee that piece of content will be so much better as a result.

And wouldn’t that be much more satisfying for everyone?


*Obviously, our own clients have never been guilty of any of the above. These are just rumours we’ve heard on the gripevine.




  1. writers says:

    Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  2. Scott says:

    I thought this blog was brilliant. A couple of weeks ago I was working for a company who think they are experts in SEO by typing in certain keywords and rephrasing Google´s top page with a writing catered to Google, not catered to the reader. Rankings do get better, but I haven´t seen them make it to number 1 yet.

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