The Pitfalls of Creative Control and Its Impact on Copywriting

Every campaign needs a strong leader. But too much creative control can lead to narrow perspectives, siloed work, and unhelpful churn. Here’s how marketers can maintain control while avoiding its pitfalls.

Exercising full creative control comes with some pitfalls.

Having creative control feels great—at first. Maybe you’re heading up an impactful campaign or launching a new product. Not only do you want to be able to shape the vision, ideate the right messaging, and ensure everything remains on brand, you want to work with creatives you fully trust.

Along those lines, you may be used to collaborating with specific creatives—including copywriters—who just get it. You have the kind of rapport that enables you to freely share your ongoing thoughts as they come to you—and know they’ll be successfully incorporated into the copy or content.

There it is again: the unmistakable handprint of control.

We get it. Strong writers can be a hard resource to come by—which might make you feel a bit possessive. Naturally, you want to hold onto them and guard them from competition (and maybe even colleagues). The last thing you want is an outside agency or new team of copywriters taking your ideas and running with them, potentially in the wrong direction.

The truth is, a setup like this is great…until it isn’t. Becoming too reliant on one or a few hand-selected writers has significant downsides. From unexpected leaves to a lack of outside perspective, here are the five pitfalls of insisting on extreme creative control—whether deliberately or not.

1. Tunnel vision

Keeping too tight a grip on writers and other creatives may cause companies to inadvertently isolate themselves from valuable viewpoints—leading to overlooked insights and missed opportunities. Brands can always benefit from third-party perspectives, which infuse marketing with innovative ideas and approaches.

Another way to develop tunnel vision is to over-curate your team. If you entrust one writer with emails, another with blog posts, and a third with social captions, without allowing any room for cross-training, you miss uncovering a hidden talent, cultivating a helpful redundancy, or bringing a fresh voice into the mix. You’re left in the lurch when someone takes a vacation. Having the intuition to tap into individual writers’ greatest strengths is a good skill to have. At the same time, it can be extremely limiting.

Keeping writers on too tight of a leash can also discourage them from taking creative leaps, stifling the potential for innovation. Given a chance, people have always surprised me with their wherewithal and capabilities.

2. Hand-holding and churn

When you have several independent writers working on different projects, it translates into lots of managerial work for the person in charge. Even with the best project management software, you’ll likely find yourself forgetting who is doing what or what you told to whom—or repeating important messaging or tonal information time and again. You’ll need to navigate freelancers’ conflicting schedules. You may find yourself having to edit—or even rewrite—the work of newer writers not quite as familiar with your brand as seasoned ones. 

Then there’s the issue of turnover. Maybe your favorite freelancer takes a job in-house at another company, or one of your in-house writers goes on parental leave. Even a team member taking a few sick days in a row or a weeklong vacation could set you back on content if you don’t have a backup immediately available.

Suddenly you must source a replacement, onboard them, and get them up to speed. Depending on how long the process takes, you may even get stuck writing some of the content yourself—on top of every other element of your job. With creative control that’s too tightly held, there’s no failsafe. No marketer likes when 8-hour days turn into a string of 11-hour days because the need for content is outpacing their bandwidth. 

For high-converting copy and content, get in touch with MarketSmiths today.

3. Less continuity across departments

Marketing departments often try to maintain creative control by guarding their writing resources from colleagues or other departments. When this happens, fragmented brand representations abound. In addition, this siloed setup squanders opportunities for collaboration and synergy. Perhaps one campaign or message could reference, play off, or reinforce another, but neither the disparate writers nor the marketers guiding them are in sufficient communication to realize it.

Siloing resources also creates inefficiencies and overlaps that can get expensive. For instance, each department must onboard its writers separately. In other cases, one department may have to redo work to better match the tone of another department’s content.

4. Lack of sharing or scale

No matter how amazing a lone writer may be, there are only so many hours in a day. Between meetings, strategy sessions, and writing high-priority copy, in-house writers frequently struggle to find time to handle all incoming content needs. Freelance writers, on the other hand, have to juggle multiple clients and business tasks in addition to whatever work you send their way. 

We hear this from our clients all the time: our in-house and freelance writers are great, but they just don’t have the bandwidth to produce every single piece of content we need. 

What if you decide to increase your blog content next month, launch an ad campaign for a new business offering or product, or start distributing a weekly newsletter? With only a small pool of writers at your disposal, it can be nearly impossible to scale up.

5. Stalled and canceled initiatives

During the arduous search for writers (or the corresponding indecisiveness), it isn’t just content scale and quality that suffers: you could find yourself in the unenviable position of having to postpone or even cancel an important marketing initiative. 

And yet: timing is everything. Let’s say your company is launching a new product, starting a new account on a social platform, or beginning a partnership with another organization. You’ll want to come out of the gate strong—early momentum is crucial. If you’re scrambling to source and vet new writers, you may miss out on the perfect window of opportunity of reach or relevancy. 

A revolutionary medtech startup got transformative copy

A medical technology startup, Ezra used the latest technology to screen patients for prostate cancer. Unfortunately, its website didn’t match these ambitions—it was too serious, and risked alienating the at-risk patients Ezra was trying to attract. But after approaching MarketSmiths, Ezra soon got a website it could be proud of. Interviewing a number of SMEs, we dug deep into the science of cancer diagnosis—while keeping copy upbeat and approachable. Between that and help with social media and SEO, we’ve helped transform Ezra into one of the most impressive healthcare firms around—and kept their audience safe from the scourge of cancer. 

> Read the full case study

Creative control, without the pitfalls.

While creative control has its pitfalls, the answer isn’t to give it up entirely. Campaigns need strong leaders to hone messages, have the final say, and ensure success. The answer is instead to find a bit more balance in curation: don’t relinquish control, but be open to new solutions instead of holding on to old methodologies.

One such solution is to think of content as a consistent, continuous need rather than something to be sourced deliverable by deliverable, writer by writer. Enlist or assemble a multi-talented team of brand experts and strategic writers to account for this need, who can write in many forms and work across departments. This way, if one of your amazing in-house writers takes a leave or moves on in their career, you always have a content source to dip into that already knows your brand inside out, no hand-holding required.

What if instead of relinquishing control in the process of keeping writers on hand at all times, you in fact gain better writing and strong cost savings as a result?

Before hiring MarketSmiths, one of our clients had different direct reports who were reluctant to sign with us because they wanted to maintain a sense of control by using individual writers they already knew. Ultimately, we won them over. Now, each believes they have the best possible solution—and that there’s no relinquishment of creative control in this new cross-departmental solution, given their trust in us. 

Find a better content procurement solution.

With a strategic approach, a 35-point QC process, and a collaborative team of versatile writers, MarketSmiths has developed a discipline that produces consistent, on-brand content for our clients across diverse industries and formats. Simply turn on and off the tap as needed. Contact the MarketSmiths team to get started today.

Caitlin McQuade

Caitlin McQuade

Caitlin is a theatre-person-turned-copywriter with a deep love for good storytelling. In her stint as a freelancer, she wrote everything from corporate blog copy to a screenplay adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. When Caitlin isn’t writing, you can usually find her at a play or concert, checking out a new coffee shop, or exploring the city.

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