I’ve been a writer for most of my life but it’s only recently that I’ve come to it in a commercial sense. Like a lot of people, I started with personal journalling and then moved in to blogging. This had value to me as a means of personal expression. Professionally, I now get paid to edit, write, ghost write and provide copy. The expectation for all of these is that the copy belongs to the person paying me to create the content for them and transfer value to their business. Now I’m also writing for my own businesses and that, even above getting paid to write, has the most value of all.
The very foundation of copy writing is that you are providing a service for clients who either can’t, or don’t have the time, to write for themselves. They are willing to pay for your skills to help them communicate effectively for their business and demonstrate the value of their product or service. Emails, newsletters, marketing materials like one pagers, articles, blog posts (yes, there is a HUGE difference) and website content. Copy writers can provide all of that for you and tell people about:
- Your brand
- Your message
- Your product
- Your story
- Your invitations
- Your customer service
- Your values
- Your truth
All of these are crafted to help their business grow, succeed and build trust with their customers or clients.
But what happens when copy you’ve written is all of a sudden being used to convey a message for an organization that it wasn’t intended for? What if your copy is being used to build value, trust and branding for an organization that hasn’t put the time, energy or expertise in to building the value and trust that you were originally creating it for? If it’s on behalf of a client, then you need to act fast and let them know immediately. If it’s on behalf of your own company, you need to act faster. This is where the distinction between copy writing and copying writing becomes paramount.
If, for example, you’ve been fortunate enough to work hard and are now in a position to franchise your business model, it’s imperative that the understanding of ownership and use of copy is clarified via a legal and binding contract. Why? Because plans change and before you know it, the copy that you either wrote or had written for you, to build the business you worked so hard on, can suddenly be used to build up someone else. Are they going to provide the same value as implied by your copy? If they’re using your copy without asking, chances are their standards are a little slack to begin with so the chances of meeting expectation of value are slim.
Keep in mind that this pertains to ALL written material. Just because it’s on the web doesn’t exclude it. You need to make sure that ALL of the copy provided is clearly under your ownership and use. Why? Because if that plan changes and that franchisee has decided to compete against you and use your reputation for value for themselves, you’ve got legal grounds to get that copy back and protect your reputation. After all, wasn’t value and trust what you were trying to build in the first place? Implied support of a less than credible organization can be just as damaging to your business as it is positive for them. Who should be benefiting?
Does this all sound a bit extreme? To a non-writer, non-marketer, non-business owner who hasn’t put the time, effort, skill and education required to build a business and promote it, it might. But to anyone who knows the value of the written word and the relationships that can be built or destroyed because of it, I’m sure there are heads nodding in agreement. When someone poaches your work, as a writer, you feel instinctively protective. Writing is a personal expression regardless of who it’s for. The reaction can be equally personal.
So what’s my point? The value of the written word is huge. Whether you are writing for yourself personally, your clients or your business, it’s still your skill that is being used to successfully convey a message. Protect that against those that have neither the appreciation nor the moral compass to recognize the impact of the written word and choose to use it for their own gain without having the value to back it up. Write a contract. Make them sign it. And then wield the power of the written word when someone ignores the difference between copy writing and copying writing.