Every serious writer will understand the need for and the role of a good editor. But for the rest of us, having someone question, change, rewrite or spike our carefully crafted words is a painful experience.
I will let you into a secret: I will often ask my wife and business partner, Alison, to read what I write – particularly pieces like this.
She is a harsh critic. She will pull me up on sloppy English, question grammar and, more importantly, call out some of the rubbish I am tempted to write. Sometimes (OK, pretty much every time), I will disagree and try and justify my words. But I know she is right.
The professional services sector where I have spent much my career arguably pioneered the concept of content marketing. Lawyers have for as long as I can remember written briefings and updates for clients on changes to legislation and case law. Accountants and the consultancy market are no different. McKinsey Quarterly, perhaps one of the most powerful pieces of content marketing and thought leadership, was first published in 1964.
Creating and pushing out ‘content’ (was there a more depressing term for our carefully crafted words) in ever-increasing quantity seems to be the approach for many professional services firms. Digital marketing teams demand it and the content marketing beast needs feeding. I have seen firms contract with content agencies to create 60 pieces of content a month!
Add to this, practice and sector newsletters, video, social media feeds and you have a content programme that puts most newspapers to shame.
The role of an editor is not just to correct spelling and grammar. They should question why a piece needs to be written, who is it for, the language to adopt, and what delivery channels would be best? Only when all of these have been answered should the writing start.
So, who in professional services firms should adopt this role?
It all too often falls on the shoulders of the hard-pressed PR team. But their focus, rightly, is on managing the reputation of the firm and key individuals. They are unlikely to have the time to consider everything a firm wishes to publish.
So, perhaps the wider comms teams? It would seem to be the natural fit. But here too there are problems. Many comms teams are not writers, focused more on delivery, with digital often leading the charge.
The default in many professional services firms is to leave it to the professionals.
And there’s the rub. Professionals are without question the subject matter expert, but that does not necessarily mean they will fully appreciate the intended audience, the balance between technical detail and accessibility, or the best delivery channels.
The Big Four accountancy firms have long had editorial teams taking on the role, at least in part, of an editor. Financial services firms too have raided Fleet Street for editorial roles. And now big law firms are flirting with ‘heads of content’ roles.
It is time that professional services firms of all sizes take a step back and consider the content they create. Quality will always trump quantity, and a good editor is likely to be part of the answer.