4 tips on researching what you write

In my 25 years of writing copy for a variety of organisations, I’ve always been known for the thoroughness of my research. Because I firmly believe that understanding my clients as well as I can gives me valuable insights. And that makes my copy more real, more persuasive and ultimately, more successful.

Of course, I’ve relied a lot on my imagination and creativity, too. But it’s thorough research that’s given me the scope to be creative by giving me more information and more stories to play with. So much so that a number of clients have commented that I seemed to know more about their organisations than they did. One global company even sent their new recruits to me so I could teach them about every aspect of their business. Why? Well, as their lead copywriter, I was one of the few people who dealt with – and, more importantly, understood – all the different business areas and what they did.

So, what methods do I use to give me this in-depth knowledge? A lot of them involve common sense. But follow these four basic tips, and I don’t think you’ll go far wrong:

1. Look at the website

This might seem obvious, but corporate websites are still the best source of information on most companies. As well as getting a good grasp of what they do and how they do it, you can find out a lot about how well the organisation’s doing. But you need to go deep. Many sites will allow you to download the latest annual reports. These will give you an unbiased view of the state of the company. And links to press releases are a good way to see what’s important to the company right now, too.

2. Follow them on social media

Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are great sources of information, but you have to look at them with a critical eye. Obviously the official feeds will give you the corporate view. But try to monitor relevant hashtags and any customer service feeds – these will give a better view of how highly (or otherwise) the organisation’s regarded.

3. What do employees say about the company?

On the careers pages of the website, you’ll usually find profiles of employees from different areas of the business. Take a look at the people the company’s chosen to represent them. How diverse a group is it? What have they got to say about their roles? This’ll give you the official view.

Then go to a site like glassdoor.com – in the review section you’ll be able to find out what former employees have to say about the company. Just keep in mind that these kinds of sites tend to attract people with a grievance, so comments can sometimes lean towards the negative. With both the corporate and unofficial view, you’ll get a balanced picture of what the company’s about.

4. Keep your eyes open

It always amazes me when people working on corporate accounts aren’t aware of what’s going on with those businesses. Maybe it’s my background in journalism, but I keep tabs on the national and global news – I listen to the Today programme each morning and take a look at a number of news websites, making a note of any stories that might affect my clients. And not just stories about them directly, but also stories about their sectors or key markets. For example, one of my clients was a major bank in Africa. I passed on details of projects in Africa that I thought would interest them, which they greatly appreciated.

No matter which of these tips you follow, it’s important not to take the information you discover at face value. Always look at things with a critical eye and question what you discover. And always try to verify your findings using different sources.

Follow these simple rules and you’ll soon find your clients appreciating the additional knowledge and insight you bring to your working relationships.