What's a copy deck? And how important is it for a copywriter?April 16th, 2013 35 Comments
I didn’t know what a copy deck was
I’m not an ex-agency copywriter. In fact, I’ve never stepped foot inside an agency office. I became a copywriter after 9 years as a technical writer in the software industry.
So I’d never heard of a ‘copy deck’. It was a term that just never came up.
I’d been doing things wrong for years
One day, about 5 years after I started Divine Write, I out-sourced some work to an ex-agency copywriter, and she sent me her copy in a document she called a copy deck. I suddenly felt very out of my depth, and was both keen and afraid to have a look at it. What if I’d been doing it wrong all this time?!
So I opened it, and I HAD, in fact, been doing it wrong all this time!
I know what you’re thinking: “Glenn Murray, legendary copywriter, doing something wrong? THE Glenn Murray? You must be mistaken!”
But as incontheivable as it sounds, it’s true.
Well, actually, it’s only kinda true…
Ha! Just kidding. I’m always right! ;-)
Had you asked an agency copywriter, THEY’D have said I’d been doing it wrong. But I reckon THEY were doing it wrong. (Now we’re back in familiar territory, aren’t we? ;-)
What’s an agency copy deck look like?
What did I see when I opened that copy deck? Something that looked very much like this (this is my copy; I’ve just formatted it to look like that agency copywriter’s copy deck)…
WTF?! I couldn’t believe agencies delivered their copy to clients looking like this. Nothing looks even remotely like it will when it’s live. The headings didn’t stand out, it wasn’t scannable, things weren’t in the right spot. How the hell would a client make sense of it? How would they relate it back to their own site or brochure? (Granted, not all agency copywriters use the same format for their copy deck, but from what I’ve seen they’re all pretty similar. The most adventurous that I’ve seen use bold text to show bold text, but that’s about it.)
What’s my copy deck look like?
Nope, I was – and still am – convinced that my approach is far better. I format the copy much as I expect it to appear when live. Like this…
(The only non-WYSIWYG things I add are: 1) little blue headings that identify the page (e.g. Home page, About Us page) and are referenced by the table of contents; and 2) comments when I have a question or clarification for the reviewer.)
If you were the client, which would you prefer?
Put yourself in the client’s shoes. Which copy deck would you rather review? I know I’d rather the one that shows me how it all fits together. Then I can judge how effective the piece is, as a whole, rather than judging each bit in isolation.
My copy deck’s better for copywriters too
This is vital distinction for me, as a copywriter. I write every piece of copy as a single, cohesive thing. All the bits bounce off each other, add meaning to each other, draw meaning from their position, and so on. All of this meaning is lost in the agency copy deck format.
These days, I actually go a step further
I’m so committed to the WYSIWYG approach (aka interaction design approach), that I sometimes don’t create a copy deck at all. Not in the conventional sense, anyway. Because the message – the journey – of any piece is the whole page, I wireframe the whole page, and present my copy within the wireframe. My wireframe includes menus, image placeholders, buttons, and so on. Like this…
My wireframe with copy
Usually I only present home page copy in a wireframe, but I’ve done it for all pages for a few clients. I’d do it a lot more, too, if the wireframing tool had some support for reviews.
Long story short
To me, the term ‘copy deck’ means nothing more than a document containing your copy. IMHO it should be designed for the client. As close to the live thing as possible, with as few non-copy elements as possible.
I’m sure I’m showing my agency ignorance a little here, but those agency copywriters are just toffee-nosed snobs, anyway! Aren’t they +Kate Toon? ;-)
What do you do?
Enough about me (and Kate!). How do you present your copy to clients for review? Please comment…
Please comment below with your thoughts. I'm not so old a dog that I can't learn a few new tricks!