Jason Schaffer is the director of technology and a managing partner at Blue Coda in Cambridge, Mass. His team builds a lot of websites, so we thought it would be interesting to get Jason’s perspective on content development. And yes, we were compelled to ask some blatantly leading questions about the importance of good copywriting.
Tell me about Blue Coda.
Blue Coda is a multiple-award-winning, boutique Web consulting firm that offers the full spectrum of Web services, including strategy, design, implementation and analytics. We’ve been around since 2002.
What’s so great about Blue Coda?
Our firm functions with the hands-on approach and agility of a small shop but with the resources and expertise of a much larger company. We have an engaging, multidisciplinary team that loves our work as well as music and outdoors activities such as competitive snowman building [just kidding], distance running, kite surfing and skiing.
I don’t know what kite surfing is.
And you never will.
Okay, now for my leading questions. … What aspects of your projects are the most challenging? And what usually poses the biggest risk to a project’s success?
When we first sit down with prospects, we always help assess the biggest risks to the project timeline and budget. In almost every case, the risks are assumed to be technical in nature — creating unique designs that reflect client feedback, building consensus among all of a client team’s decision makers or perhaps questions about our ability to integrate systems together.
In reality, the biggest challenge to the timeline and budget for us is … drum roll, please … getting content in time and in the right format! Surprising, isn’t it?
I’m not surprised. But why is that?
I guess because on the surface, copywriting appears to be the best candidate to cut from the project and take in-house, with the goal of lowering cost. Everyone learns to write at an early age, and writing doesn’t require much in the way of technology or graphic design skills. But writing is not that easy, obviously.
What kinds of problems do clients run into when writing for the Web?
We find many organizations struggle to put everything in one voice and write in the clear, concise style that’s appropriate for the Internet. Getting all of the content written, proofread, verified for accuracy and in some cases compliance — and then getting it organized in a format that allows our developers to move quickly — always proves to be much more work than anyone imagines.
While a site’s graphic design is often the first thing users notice, ultimately it’s the content that determines the site’s value in the eyes of users.
At what point in the process do clients typically realize they can’t handle the copy in-house?
At the very last moment! Not only is the value of copy often discounted at first, but the amount of time it takes to do it right is severely underestimated as well. Unfortunately, many organizations put the copywriting process off until the last possible moment and then realize too late what’s required.
In the end, projects are often compromised in one of two ways — either the timeline is blown out, or the quality and organization of the content is sacrificed.
At that point, do you adopt a superior tone and laugh in their faces?
So do you find yourself gently nudging clients to outsource the copywriting duties? Is it a difficult sell?
When it makes sense, we do encourage the client to hand off the copy portion of the project. It can be a difficult sell upfront because of the tendency of organizations to undervalue the skills required. But once a client team has begun struggling through the copywriting process, we tend to have an easier time making our case.
Do you secretly wish you could be a copywriter someday?
Yes. But I should also let you know I dream of being a rock star, president and leader of the free world, and the first astronaut to land on Mars.
Trust me, all pale in comparison to being a copywriter.