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Copy Confidential: When to Be—and Not Be—a Brutal Editor

June 2, 2023
Author: Evelyn Creekmore
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Evelyn Creekmore has been writing since, well, she could write. Her poet grandmother taught her how to count beats with her little fingers as a grade-schooler and typed up her poems to submit to contests. An early win was third place for “Plants.” Fast forward a decade or two, and we find Evelyn copywriting away at a New York ad agency. She went on to serve in content director roles for Home Shopping Network, WebMD, and FootSmart. For the last seven years, Evelyn has provided freelance content strategy and copywriting services to major global brands in just about every industry. Specialties include health, tech, finance, retail, and CPG.

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It just kept happening. I was working with an agency on a series of projects for a major CPG brand. The first project team hated what I did, as did the second and third. For writers, there’s just about nothing as disappointing as being told you missed the mark. And it’s scary. You don’t want to be the one who loses the business for the agency—or yourself.

At every turn, I strained to figure out where and why the misalignment was happening. I grasped for what to do differently.

I might as well have been back in the biostats class it took me three tries to pass.

Even with brilliant agency minds offering me their best advice and collaborating with the client, the problem was indecipherable.

Until it wasn’t.

Finally, the light bulb: it was the level of editing.

What the client expected from me was completely different from what the agency and I expected from me, and we didn’t have an effective way to talk about it.

My solution was to clearly define the different levels of editing I could provide and have the discussion upfront, every project, every time.

I called the levels the Five Crayons, with full credit due to Crayola for their fun color names I borrowed for internal use only.

  1. Barely There: Only change copy if there’s a typo or grammatical error. Bring content into the visual identity, but don’t bring the copy on brand.
  2. Green Means Go: Chunk content into tables and bullets. Suggest design ideas to show instead of say. Don’t change the order of content.
  3. Tumbleweed: Move, combine, omit, and add content.
  4. Fuzzy Wuzzy: Heavily edit copy to bring it on brand.
  5. Wild Blue Wonder: Do whatever it takes to create an engaging, on-brand experience that inspires the audience to take action.

Can I just say, whew? The Five Crayons worked for us. They helped us communicate better, stay on the same page, and keep the work flowing smoothly—for the client, the agency, and me.      

Read more in Evelyn Creekmore's Copy Confidential Series:

Hard-Won Wisdom for Freelance Copywriters

What I Wish Clients Knew About Copywriting Tests

3 Red Flags a Copywriter and Client Aren’t a Fit

What I Wish Clients Knew–Why Copywriters Can’t Quit You

What I Wish Clients Knew–Some Copywriters Are Really Sensitive

ChatGPT Project Win


Brian Deloach
Search Engine Optimization
Zebbie Gillispie
Creative Direction & Designer
Evelyn Creekmore
Content Strategy & Writer
Andrew Golubock
Engagement Manager
Angie Vaughn
Marketing & Email Strategy

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Author: Evelyn Creekmore
Evelyn C. has been writing since, well, she could write. Her poet grandmother taught her how to count beats with her little fingers as a grade-schooler and typed up her poems to submit to contests. An early win was third place for “Plants.” Fast forward a decade or two, and we find Evelyn copywriting away at a New York ad agency. She went on to serve in content director roles for Home Shopping Network, WebMD, and FootSmart. For the last seven years, Evelyn has provided freelance content strategy and copywriting services to major global brands in just about every industry. Specialties include health, tech, finance, retail, and CPG.
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