The 15 B2B copywriters I don’t want to be

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Doug Kessler

01. 07. 2016 | 9 min read

The 15 B2B copywriters I don’t want to be

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Every time I walk past Tim (our Head of Operations)’s desk, he gives me a look that says, “We need more copywriters, Doug”. He doesn’t say it (well, sometimes he says it) but I know he’s thinking it.

And I’m thinking it, too.

We need more goddamn copywriters and we need them now.

But, while it’s really, really hard to find great account people and designers and developers and data analysts and marketing automationists (we’re hiring all of these) it’s ridiculously hard to find great B2B copywriters.

Why so hard? Because they don’t grow on trees. If they did grow on trees, we would have planted an orchard by now.

Yes, there are lots of copywriters out there. You can tell because there’s so much content. But most of that content is not very good and that’s either because the writers aren’t very good, or they’re not being asked to write great content, or both.

So we end up looking at a lot of writing portfolios before we ask one writer to come in for a cuppa. And we might ask a handful in for a cuppa before we offer one a job. Do the math: a handful times a lot is, like, a shitload. So our copywriter hiring ratio is a shitload-to-one.

Why so picky?

Because we think writing is the very heart of the content artichoke. And we know that a well-written piece will out-perform an averagely-written piece by 16 to1600 times. If you’re in the ROI biz (who isn’t?), that’s the biggest-ass of big-ass returns.

The weird thing is that I’m a crap writer too. We all are. Every writer at Velocity is capable of being exactly the kind of writer we reject. We all fall back on bad habits. We all cut corners under pressure. And we do it with alarming frequency.

The key is to be alert to the many different kinds of hack writers within us and to take away their keyboards before they can do any serious damage. To catch our own inner yadda-yadda merchants and prevent their effluent from reaching innocent readers.

Who are these inner hacks? I’ve discovered 15 distinct types hiding under my desk and inside my shirt:

The wordsmith

Writing isn’t about making pretty sentences. Yes, great writers spend a lot of time crafting every line, but a fine sentence is just the veneer on the credenza.

Under the veneer is a lot of carpentry, with dovetail joints and, like, nails and shit. Harry captured this in his excellent post called “B2B writing: it ain’t just writing”.

If you build the credenza well, applying the veneer is the easy part. It’s rewarding as hell but it’s not the whole job.

The clever wordsmith

I do hate this guy — mainly because he hijacks my work so often. The clever wordsmith is the writer who is so proud of his newborn pun or metaphor that he fails to see how distracting it is from the story he’s being paid to tell.

I love a good pun and have beaten some sweet metaphors to death (see credenza, above). But clever ain’t copywriting. It’s showing off. As a card-carrying show-off, I exhaust myself trying to suppress my inner diva-demon.

The press release writer

Press releases aren’t writing. They’re typing.

Almost anyone can fill in the blanks of this highly constrained corporate template (“We’re thrilled to welcome Atilla to our growing Hun team.”) but no one will ever read a press release even though lots of places publish them.

So, writers, if you’re briefed to write a press release (or any other over-templatised format), ask about the goal of the exercise and recommend one of the dozen-or-so better ways to achieve it.

The clunky

A good copywriter needs at least one ear. And that ear should be able to notice if a sentence curls up its own ass and dies. Or stumbles off to nowhere, groping for support that is never going to arrive. Or is so grammatically correct that it’s virtually unreadable.

I’ve written some shockingly clunky paragraphs. That’s part of the work. The key is to read your own stuff before you send it. If you’re at or above your minimum allocation of ears, you’ll catch the things that go ‘clunk’.

But if you don’t re-read your own stuff as a new reader would… you won’t.

The shallow

B2B copywriting isn’t pituitary gland surgery – but sometimes it’s about pituitary gland surgery. That means the writer is going to have to learn things. Technical things.

Good copywriters love learning things. Good B2B copywriters love learning technical things. Things they can never share at dinner parties (but far too often do).

In the mean streets of B2B, shallow doesn’t cut it. If I’m about to write something that I haven’t learned enough about, I can feel it in my gut. I’m faking it. And I will be caught out. It’s time to pause to learn more about my subject.

The stiff

Bad writers sit up straight when they write. This is so they can bear the weight of their Writing Hat.

Good writers recline and slouch and cross their legs and make those snow angels. Because they don’t own a Writing Hat. They just speak, using a keyboard.

Some of my early English teachers (and one or two of my early bosses) were convinced that writing had to be stiff and formal to be effective. An awful lot of marketers still feel that way. Which sucks.

The lazy

If Shallow is a species, then Lazy is the genus (or maybe the kingdom, given its prevalence).

Lazy writers can’t be bothered to pick up the phone and talk to a member of the target audience. Or to spend a few hours doing desk research so that they’re not talking utter shite. Or to Google ‘genus’ so they don’t use it when they meant to use ‘kingdom’. (Sue me).

Copywriting may not be coal mining but it is a form of work. The better writers recognise this. Of course, we all deserve the occasional lazy day. Just don’t make it the day before the deadline.

The precious

Every once in a while a lost poet wanders into an agency that left the door open and tries to make a living there.

When a colleague or client tries to point out that “ere” is an archaic way of saying “before” or that “e’er” is an odd way to say “ever” and that neither are viable options for a blog post about oscilloscopes, they get the stink-eye.

Alas, ere long, the poet will be compelled to wander on. And those left behind will make the wank gesture whene’er their name is spoken.

(I house-trained my inner poet early in my career but sometimes he pops up with a too-interesting metaphor and looks all hurt when The Better Me deletes it.)

The bolshy

Good copywriters defend their choices, sometimes stubbornly.

Bad copywriters fight for every word even when they’re wrong.

It always amazes me how precisely inverse the relationship can be between prickliness and talent. (Note to self, to be read in these hot-headed moments: get over yourself.)

The voice-less

Writing that simplifies and clarifies a complex, technical subject is hard to achieve and should be applauded.

But writing that does that with a voice – a distinctive sound, energy and attitude – is rare. And writing that creates and maintains momentum – so that the reader can stop but would really prefer not to – is even rarer.

We don’t want to see voice crammed in every noun-based nook and copy cranny. It has to be right for the piece and natural for the context. But a good copywriter can summon a strong, compelling voice when needed.

When my inner drone-writer takes over it’s always because I don’t actually find the subject I’m writing about very interesting. That’s my fault not the subject’s. I need to find the flicker of interest and fan that sucker or my writing will be dull, dull, dull.

The one-voice pony

The voice needed for a rant against the forces of evil is not the voice needed for a data sheet. Some writers only have one voice. That’s better than no voice, but only marginally.

I have been guilty of over-voicing my copy. It tends to be when I’m in show-off mode. Fun but distracting as hell. Edit.

The blatherer

Good copywriters are storytellers (Duncan wrote a post about this) and good stories are always well-structured (Harry wrote another about that).

Some writers have a strong voice and a clear head — but they can’t structure a story or build an argument. So they just start writing and meander around the subject for a while and then write the word ‘Conclusion’ and stop.

A lot of B2B copywriting is long form (we’ve written pieces that were over 120 pages). You get in serious trouble by page twelve if your structure is weak. Been there. Don’t want to go back.

The formulaic

When you’ve written your fiftieth iteration of any kind of piece, it’s tempting to paint by numbers. Like making every case study go “The Company/ The Challenge/The Solution/The Result”.

But formulas are as boring to read as they are to write. (Irene did a great post on why so many B2B case studies suck and this is one of the reasons.)

When I find myself writing to a formula, it helps to examine that formula, tease out its hidden conventions, and break a few. Way more fun.

The ink-head

A lot of writers are essentially print writers. They can write linear stories with beginnings, middles and ends but they can’t adapt their writing to the new generation of weird and wonderful digital formats. Formats that encourage the reader to branch and browse and swipe and scroll

As B2B marketing becomes almost entirely digital, copywriters need to craft copy for all kinds of experiences, not just the ‘Once-upon-a-time’ kind. (Adam showcases one of these in a post about an online quiz tool).

This continues to be the hardest battle for me. I am essentially an ink-head. But I love learning new tricks, so I’m in the right job.

The search slut

I hate the whole idea of an ‘SEO copywriter’ almost as much as I hate the idea that Donald Trump could be a viable candidate for any party on any planet in any universe.

SEO copywriters are writers who understand search spiders better than they understand the people they’re writing to. And it shows.

About eight years ago, when SEO got hot, we had to make a choice: get good at ‘writing for search engines’ so we could out-smart Sergey Brin; or stick to writing for humans and wager than Sergey would get better and better at delivering relevance and quality in his SERPS.  We chose the latter, and we’re pretty sure we won.

But the inner search-slut is very hard to suppress. It’s so tempting to insert that keyphrase into that intro, just this once…

[UPDATE: Rand Fishkin of Moz fame objected to this one. He points out that I don’t know my SEO Ass from my Anchor Text Elbow; that SEO took off WAY before 2008; and that a keyword in an intro is hardly malpractice. All excellent (and indisputable) points. I guess the ‘Search Slut’ thing is a cheap shot: there are lots of smart, professional SEO-wonks in the world — and many more thanks to Moz’s amazing work. I was teasing the lazy ones. But maybe my aim was a bit off.

I’m a card-carrying Rand Fan (yes, they issue cards), so I feel chastened by his criticism. But I figure an update is better than actually changing my original text. A bit of public shaming will do me good.]

Fighting the hack writer inside of you

Every copywriter makes all of the above mistakes, all the time.

We all fall in love with our clever wordsmithing.

We all go through clunky, lazy, shallow, stiff, voiceless or over-voiced spells. In any given week.

And we can all be bolshy and precious when we’re caught out by anyone other than our own inner reader.

The difference is this: really good B2B copywriters recognise these potholes, pitfalls and buzz kills – and work hard to fix them. That’s the job.

None of us have even come close to the mythical end of the learning curve. And the writers who say they have are the ones to watch out for.


[Hey really good copywriter: Get in touch. This whole rant was just a glorified recruitment ad in thin disguise.]


Hey everybody else: Get Ann Handley’s book Everybody Writes and follow her advice as if she were sitting right next to you, watching you type and poking you in the ribs every time you started a sentence with, “In these competitive times.”

Published in:

  • B2B copywriting

  • B2B copywriting jobs

  • b2b writing

  • copywriting

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  1. Ann Handley


    July 1st, 2016

    You’re right. I do love this.

    I think a lot of these inner hacks can be reformed in one key way: By swapping places with your reader before you publish.

    Write your face-off as a hack, a slut, a formula, a one-voice pony… and then: Put some distance between you and that writing.

    (Take a break. Go on a walk. Have a cuppa. Binge-watch an entire season of OITNB.)

    (But if you do that, don’t talk about it with me. I haven’t yet gotten past season 2.)

    When you come back to it (“GOOD MORNING, MY PRECIOUS PERFECT WRITING! I’m baaaack!”), swap places with your reader. Physically get up and walk to the other side of your desk, and read it from there, if it helps. Put yourself in their shoes. Or shirt. Or dress, if you feel summery.

    And then rewrite as the reader. Edit yourself.

    To do this you’ll need to do something with Ego: Shove him or her in the closet. Lock him in the trunk of your car. (Or the boot, if you are the UK.) Walk really fast and lose her in a crowded Tube station.

    Writers tend not to realize that they assume any of these 15 people, above. Sometimes they even assume a few at a time. It’s very crowded in a writer’s head.

    Often in that pre-playing-the-part-of-the-reader stage I am the Precious. Or the Clunky. I’m almost always The Pedant. Sometimes I’m just flat-out The Awful. Truly Awful. As in: So Put Your Pencil Down and Turn In Your Writer Card at the Door Here’s Your Last Paycheck Awful.

    The only thing that keep me putting food in my belly is my regular practice of punching my Ego in the throat, and becoming the Reader.

    PS I do this exercise even in something simple like this blog comment. The Pedant showed up today. So did the Blatherer. After a cuppa, the Reader emerged to straighten everything out.

    1. Ann Handley

      July 1st, 2016

      PS And thanks for the shout! And can you fix my typos, above? The Reader was still half asleep this morning.

    2. Doug Kessler

      July 1st, 2016

      Tanks Ann.

      I wish I’d taken your ‘sleep on it’ advice for SO many of the content I’ve published…

      Where were you when I needed you?

      [I’m leaving in your typos to smear your reputation for professionalism] [Sue me]

  2. John Windsor

    July 1st, 2016

    This was wonderful, particularly the line about good writers making snow angels!

    And so many of these personas lurk outside of B2B copywriting, as well. Back when I was writing novels, I probably went through all of them — and had some friends who insisted I adopt some of those postures. (Had a too-long debate with a friend who insisted I use “mollify” instead of “pacify”. Sheesh…)

    Thanks for the thoroughly entertaining and insightful piece!

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 3rd, 2016

      Thanks John.
      Definitely applies to more kinds of writing than just copywriting (it’s just that’s my gig…).

  3. Paul Eveleigh


    July 3rd, 2016

    B2B or B2C. Who cares?
    People read what interests them.
    Interesting copy gets read.
    Interesting persuasive copy sells .
    Nothing else to see here, folks. Move along.

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 3rd, 2016

      Sorry the post didn’t do it for you, Paul!
      Thanks for stopping by anyway.

    2. Simon James

      October 11th, 2016

      (In the absence of a mechanism to down vote a comment) Paul’s reply was about as useful as the never-to-be-published Donald J Trump’s “Art of Diplomacy”.

  4. Mike

    July 3rd, 2016

    1. Copywriters are not necessarily writers at all.
    2. Journalists are not necessarily writers at all.
    3. The amount of content in the market does not reflect at all the number of writers today.
    4. Writers aren’t made by anyone else; much less the size of their audience, number of likes, or shares.
    5. Many writers are actually recluses.

    Writers write at no cost, when no one is looking, and they rarely publish their work. You’re referencing writing in the context of publishing.

    Try to categorize or analyze writers by your aforementioned 15 profiles. Honestly, I stopped reading before then.

    At about 1am I’ll begin to write tonight and finish at 3am. Do I write for a living? Yes, to pay the bills. However, what I write in the middle of the night is not for work. 99% of it never sees the light of day. Because I write for me. It’s a form of meditation. It’s personal.

    Example of writers are people whose books have been banned in a country, while also taught by every teacher at the same time – see Twain, JD Salinger. Or even more controversial like a Hubert Selby, Jr. In film, it’s akin to someone like the late Stanley Kubrick.

    You just can’t go out and scale writers. B-B is easy but you’re looking in the wrong place. It’s not on your time, it’s my time. Some guy who on a whim decides to leave you a comment and holds no punches.

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 3rd, 2016

      Thanks for weighing in Mike!

      I understand the idea (and the appeal) of the heroic writer who writes for himself at 3am.

      I’m not one of those. I write to be read (mostly on behalf of our clients but also in my Velocity work).

      I’m a big Twain fan too. But, to me, he was an audience-driven writer in the best sense of the term. He wrote – and entertained – for money and was hugely successful doing it.

      I see where you’re coming from (I think) but I do feel that we copywriters are writers. We’re not novelists or poets and, I hope, don’t pretend to be. But the good ones honour the craft.

      I’m sure some great writers have been recluses in garrets, apparently writing only for themselves. And I’m glad they exist.

      Me? I’m a copywriter and kinda proud of that.

  5. Mel Wicks

    The Craft of Copywriting

    July 3rd, 2016

    I’m with you, Doug. (‘Me? I’m a copywriter and kinda proud of that’). If you want to starve yourself to death in some lonely garret in the name of writing, good for you. Take a bow. But I would prefer to practice my art (and copywriting is an amazing, skilful art) and get paid a living wage at the same time.

    Writing great B2B content is not easy, Mike. In fact, it’s damn hard. Writing bad B2B content, on the other hand, is a walk in the park. Maybe that’s what you were thinking of, in your throwaway comment. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

    Keep up the great work, Doug. I’m a new fan.

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 4th, 2016

      Thanks Mel!
      Glad you liked the post!

  6. Mike

    July 4th, 2016

    Mel, Doug-
    In looking back at what I wrote – you’re right, saying B2B copywriting is easy was a pretty stupid thing to say and it’s an incorrect statement. I’m man enough to admit it. My apologies.

    I guess I came to this blog for the first time, was pleasantly surprised that there’s an entire agency who has the voice I feel is missing today. The non-PC, in your face, tell it like it is, ‘opt in crap’ as you say – got excited and instead of joining you – hit my own men with friendly fire.

    So shields down for a second. 🙂 If you don’t mind I’ll clarify. I said not ‘necessarily’ writers because as you said Mel, there is bad B2B content out there. Obviously there’s very effective B2B content as well, and we don’t see the initial drafts of how one came to the final witty statements ready for prime time. So I’ll stop defending dead writers. 🙂

    I do have a question for you Doug – how do you “honour your craft” as you say? Because I’d rather not throw away 99% of what I write. Maybe my expectations are too high, but is there something you do or read daily that enables you to bring out the best of your talents more often?

    Thanks in advance…Mike

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 4th, 2016

      No need to apologise at all — I much prefer straight feedback to the ‘couched’ stuff.

      You make very good points and I’m glad you took the trouble to comment — for everyone who contributes honest feedback, there are probably dozens who agree but don’t bother.

      On the ‘honour the craft’ point — I guess I just mean respect the reader. Maybe by avoiding the fifteen pitfalls I find myself falling into.

      I hope you’re not killing 99% of your stuff, BTW. The good thing about being a copywriter for clients is that I have to ‘ship the product’ no matter what. That keeps me honest without being over-critical of the work.

      Thanks again – for commenting, for lowering the shield and for opting in! I hope we earn it.

    2. Mel Wicks

      The Craft of Copywriting

      July 4th, 2016

      Love a healthy debate. Good for you, Mike

    3. Doug Kessler

      July 5th, 2016


  7. Mike

    July 4th, 2016

    btw Doug I did finish reading the entire blog, and even opted in for more crap!

  8. Karola Karlson


    July 4th, 2016

    I was reading this and thinking… Doug is clearly the clever wordsmith type. (We do tend to hate ourselves sometimes 😉

    Which is to say that I loved reading every single line – it was like a poet’s essay rather than something from a marketer’s pen.

    I totally felt like knowing most of the types mentioned in the article. I agree, being a good and proud B2B copywriter is a challenge proportionate to writing literary classics (alright, maybe I got a liiiiitle too emotional about being a B2B writer)

    Thanks for a wonderful read!.

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 4th, 2016

      Thanks Karola.

      Guilty of the ‘clever wordsmith’ charge. It’s my struggle.
      Sometimes I read old blog posts and my skin crawls right off my body.

      But I’m actually guilty of all the other shitty writer ruts, too.
      Been there, done them…

  9. David McGuire

    Radix Communications

    July 4th, 2016

    Ah yeah… this is why I look forward to your blog posts, Doug – you nailed it, as ever. So many things I catch myself doing, every day.

    In particular, I found myself nodding enthusiastically about the “clever wordsmith” thing. It’s the gap between what people *think* a copywriter is, and what we actually do. When I’m mentoring new writers, it feels like 99% of my time is beating this out of them (which makes me sad… some of the puns are so, so good). Like Mr Miyagi, making Daniel San paint a fence.

    I’m not sure I agree on press releases, though. The skills you need to write a good press release (*NOT* a boilerplate one with the words “delighted” and announce” in it) are the building blocks in making a great B2B copywriter.

    I think I’m going to write my own blog post about that actually…

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 5th, 2016

      Thanks David — and good point about press releases.

      I was going to kill that one but couldn’t resist the opportunity to stick the boot into the formulaic side of copywriting.

      Of course, you’re right: it’s possible to write a fresh, original press release (I do wonder if you’d want to call it a press release though…).

  10. Kevin Fream


    July 4th, 2016

    Maybe you should invert this idea and tell the personas you actually need? In reality, you’re probably building a basketball team (or a few of them):

    1) Point guard that can quickly deliver and knows when to hand off to others.

    2) Shooting guard that makes the long bomb.

    3) Power forward that can do a little bit of everything.

    4) Small forward that is a specialist.

    5) Center that slams strong statements.

    Brin will likely eliminate the easy and apathetic with artificial intelligence soon. Then maybe there will be more than a couple handfuls of rich authors on the planet.

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 5th, 2016

      Cool metaphor — I’m on the subs bench but can throw a mean full-court buzzer-beater (which falls, say, 5-feet short… but still).

  11. Al Campbell

    July 4th, 2016

    So here’s the thing.

    This started off interesting.

    Got past good and almost made great.

    Used the right words although probably not in the best order to make it compelling.

    Then it got boring because it went on too long and lost its way. Couldn’t be bothered to see where it might end up.

    If any real writer got tot he end of it they’re 100% in the 15 types you don’t want.

    Still it was engaging, amusing and insightful and brightened my life for an ephemeral moment but, like most B2B writing, I never got to the end.

    Shame that.

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 5th, 2016

      Sorry I lost you, Al.

      Maybe 15 is a bit too many…

  12. Steve

    Online impact group

    July 5th, 2016

    I’ve never been to the velocity site before bit came to this article from a referring site.

    Never have I felt so convinced that I was reading content from a trustworthy source. As a result, I opted in to receive the crap using my real name and company email address. Havent done that in years.

    If anyone knows the secret formula that just caused me to trust the writer and his/her motivations, I desperately want to know…

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 5th, 2016

      That’s such a great thing to hear, Steve.

      I hope we’re worthy of that trust!

      (We won’t send you a lot of spam. We do a monthly round-up newsletter and not a lot more… Probably not the best email strategy but it’s where we are today.)

  13. Miruna

    July 5th, 2016

    This is hilarious. I love it.

    I think B2B is a frame that has to be used, but it’s used an thought of in the wrong way. People hear B2B – they think stuck up – formal & technical content.

    The truth about B2B is somewhere in the middle between the whole “it’s all people-to-people“ opinion and “you’re talking to serious companies“.

    It’s all about people, and if you only entertain them, they will leave with a smile but not a name in mind. They need the basis to ground the decision of choosing you, but they also need to like you.

    I’ve met several people from you’re categories and I am one or two of those categories from time to time.

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 5th, 2016

      Thanks Miruna.

      I like the idea of a middle ground between ‘P2P’ and traditional B2B. Generally, we’re still trying to convince someone to make a rational business choice — but that doesn’t mean we’re not talking to humans.

  14. William


    July 5th, 2016

    Hi team,

    A definitely insightful topic on whom to choose and whom to not. Copyrighter needs to be a good researcher first that’s what our criteria says but you changed my whole perspective.

    BTW, the comment section looks clunky. You might want to increase a font size a little bit

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 5th, 2016

      Thanks Willliam — will pass this on.

  15. Ronald Reagan

    July 5th, 2016

    B2B is a completely different animal than B2C. It’s way harder and as outlined in other posts littered with some truly horrid content that is painful and hard to read – ruining it for te rest of us. There is all too much content out there, so good stuff is lost in a sea of “crap”

    I will say I was happily reading this and thinking “I should check into hiring these guys, they seem smart.”

    Then, I saw a derogatory comment about Donald Trump and thought to myself “this wring should go F- himself.” Really, we don’t care about your opinion. Tired of Brits and other foreigners weighing in on American politics. Hillary Clinton would be the worst thing that could happen to our country.

    If a similar comment was made about Hillary or Obama, surely someone would say you were a sexist or a racist.

    So, 99.9% good content and all your other posts – but sticking your nose in Politics has lost you one potentially lucrative CMO with a rather large budget for a content marketing agency.

    Suggest you shut the hell up about politics and stick to your knitting.

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 5th, 2016

      Thanks for your feedback, Ron.

      You’re probably right: politics doesn’t belong in marketing. I couldn’t resist.

      If picking an agency that agrees with your politics is important, I guess we lost one.

      I like to think I can be friends and colleagues with just about anyone, whoever they choose to vote for. But in this case, you may be right. You and I are most probably on very very different planets, so maybe it’s best we agree to disagree.

      Anyway, I thank you for your honest opinion. I probably alienated quite a few people with that Trump dig and would never know it if you hadn’t shared your comment.

      And thanks for your kind words about the other 99.9% of our stuff. I appreciate that (it takes integrity to say nice things about us when you don’t like us very much — I wish there were more of that in the world).

      (BTW – I’m a Yank and a voter and so kinda get an opinion on this one.)

      (I also think Brits and foreigners get to have an opinion, too — even if they don’t have a vote. The person that the US elects does affect the whole world. But we can agree to disagree on that one, too).

    2. Simon James

      October 11th, 2016

      If you own an assault rifle (or some other high calibre self-defense system) please forgive my earlier comment 😉

  16. Lynn Swords

    Ink & Key

    July 9th, 2016

    This is exactly what I needed to read this evening. In fact, more than likely I’ll stop by tomorrow and read it again, just to make sure it sticks in my head. This is my not-so-subtle way of getting in touch.

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 16th, 2016

      So do get in touch, Lynn — if your pen is as mighty as your last name! (Sorry).

  17. Traci Browne

    July 16th, 2016

    Excellent list Doug…and I say that as a B2B writer. And thank you for valuing your writers enough to post this.

    I think most real (serious maybe better word) writers strive to be the opposite of your hacks, and it’s an ongoing process. You’re not suddenly a great writer one day and it’s smooth sailing from there on in. Every writer I know has their bad days so don’t toss them away just because of one piece of shite writing. Also, keep in mind the client often insists on, or adds all those annoying things to the final draft against your wishes.

    Maybe we should write a post about the clients we don’t want to be. Let’s start it off with “cheap.” I cannot tell you, as a freelance writer, how many companies reach out to me, wanting everything on your list but offering, in most cases, less than $1 per word. Way, way, way less.

    P.S. Stay away from me at a cocktail party because I am that person…I’m going to talk about whatever I learned about that week…tungsten carbide, prison toilets, control valves. But hey, if I’m good I’ll make it interesting enough that you’ll want to hear about it, right?

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 17th, 2016

      Thanks Traci — all great points.
      It’s a never-ending battle against the forces of cack.

  18. Lionel Binnie

    M Source

    July 24th, 2016

    I’m a bit late to this party, but as usual, really enjoyed the post. The honesty thing is still really working for me.. I’ve re-read your ‘Insane Honesty’ and ‘The other C word’ posts many times and still get something new every time. Using this stuff in my writing.
    Please keep giving away your ‘secrets’!

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 29th, 2016

      Thanks Lionel!

      In the spirit of Insane Honesty: some of our secrets don’t always work.
      (But I really do wish more marketers practiced insane honesty.)

  19. Brooke Chang

    July 26th, 2016

    Doug, thank you so much for this! A few days after this post went up, I happened to start a thread on LinkedIn asking what content marketing managers wanted to see more of from their freelancers.

    One helpful soul—a commenter here, actually—basically dropped the link into a reply and said, “This.” The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. (Or at least, a lot better than the timeliness of my reply.)

    Thanks again, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of your crap in my inbox!

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 29th, 2016

      Thanks Brooke — glad to be of service!
      (And thanks for opting in to our crap — a premium brand of crap if ever there was one).

  20. Melissa Vasquez


    August 9th, 2016

    Great post Doug! I agree, it’s easy to fall into any of these traps in the B2C world too. I’m thinking about going B2B, but I worry about being a “one voice pony.”

    1. Fatima A.

      August 18th, 2016

      Oh so true. I’m considering putting myself on a Buzzfeed detox: every time I get an idea, a voice in my head starts reeling off “This Copywriter Had An Epiphany While In the Loo. What Happens Next Will Shock You.”

  21. Paul

    CopyLeft Ltd.

    August 17th, 2016

    I feel like I’ve just been through one of those painful health treatments like back-cracking or acupunture or that thing where they whip you with branches.

    Have distilled this into post-it format and plastered it all around my monitor. Ta.

    1. Doug Kessler

      May 11th, 2017

      Thanks Paul.
      Not sure what GP you go to…

  22. Fatima A.

    August 18th, 2016

    No longer must writing be the redheaded stepchild of marketing. Doug Kessler, you’re doing God’s work. :’)

  23. Rene Power

    Vision B2B Marketing & Training Ltd

    September 8th, 2016

    Bummed I missed this the first time around. Smart, funny, provocative, edgy and almost all entirely true.

    Some great things to sense check and traits to work on.

    Not sure how you’ll find a writer now after disassociating yourself from them all!


    1. Doug Kessler

      September 12th, 2016

      Thanks Rene! (Stop by more often — virtually or for a cuppa in Richmond).

  24. Genevieve Blazini

    September 22nd, 2016

    This was a great read. Looking for B2B writing opportunities. I am an attorney with a professional writing and marketing background. Have done many kinds of writing, from exposition to media to science to legal. Currently at home with the youngsters and interested in freelance. Would love to learn more.

    1. Doug Kessler

      September 22nd, 2016

      Hi Genevieve — thanks for your interest.
      Can you send stuff to Tim (at)


  25. Nate Spell

    December 16th, 2016

    Firstly, I want to thank you guys for writing content that doesn’t bore me to death with the same old shallow, voiceless list posts that do little more than make me feel hopeless about my prospects as a relatively new content marketer.

    There are a lot of marketers whose audience is, well, me: self-taught newbs who are always looking for ways to improve. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the SERPs for marketing terms is flooded with lackluster listicles. You know, the ones encouraging readers like me to fork over an email address so we can access more useless crap.

    It takes a toll, honestly. I woke up today feeling like this industry is just one big circle jerk, if you’ll pardon my Texan.

    Thankfully, I find this article.

    I’ve been on a near-daily quest to find solid marketing advice in the ether of Google search results for the past year, and somehow I’m only now discovering the awesome resources you guys put out.

    So lastly, I want to thank you again—for inspiring me, yes, but also for proving that content marketing doesn’t have to suck. I hope one day my content sucks as little as y’all’s (there’s my Texan showing again).

    Rock on, Velocity!

    1. Doug Kessler

      January 22nd, 2017

      Thanks Nate! Yeah, there’s an awful lot of mediocre stuff out there.
      Glad you don’t put our blog in that category!

  26. Norman

    Still working on this

    May 11th, 2017

    That was, truly, an interesting write-up. I think there is a lot of merit in what you have to say, but I do hope the intellectual material is better than the marketing material. The use of colloquials and words that frankly don’t edify you or anyone else was something I found myself having to overcome to maintain any interest. I would think good writing is not a bastardization of the English language and does not rely on four letter words that have the potential to offend (I am, of course, talking about marketing/writing). I will hope for more.

    1. Doug Kessler

      May 11th, 2017

      Thanks for the feedback, Norman.
      I accept that my style isn’t for everyone!
      Glad you hung around long enough to get something anyway — and even gladder that you left a comment.

      I think a lot about swearing in marketing and, on balance, decided we can get away with it, if used carefully.
      But I accept that the downside of this is that we may alienate some really good, smart people who we’d prefer to be friends.

      I wrote about that in a post called “How To Swear in Your F*cking Marketing”:

      And turned it into a talk that I gave last year at Inbound:

      But you may hate both of these!

  27. Blythe

    June 16th, 2017

    So, this post was written like a year ago and I’m WAY late to chime in, but I just came across it while researching B2B writing resources, and I can’t help myself, I’ve gotta say it:

    What you need ISN’T a stable of perfect B2B copywriters. What you need is a stable of decent copywriters and ONE REALLY GREAT EDITOR..

    (Or maybe two, maybe more, depending on how much content you’re churning out.)

    Hire people who can write well for any audience, and let them do their thing. Then, before publishing, push their work through an editor who understands (1) B2B content, (2) the style guidelines of your choosing, and (3) your company’s desired tone. You’ll have the perfect combination.

    Of course, I’m an editor by trade so I’m totally biased here – but this just seems so obvious to me. Give us editors a chance! It’s our job to make great writing better! To make well-written content fit within a preferred mold is what we do, and we can do it for YOU! Don’t be scared! I promise we don’t bite! (But if you have thin skin, it might feel a little like we do.)


    Hire a great editor and you will never regret it. I promise.

    I sincerely hope you’ve figured this out by now — you seem like a smart guy, so I’m thinking you probably have. But just in case, there’s my two cents. 🙂

    1. Doug Kessler

      June 24th, 2017

      Thanks, Blythe. Great point. We do have an editor in our team – but we haven’t cracked the process yet. It makes a lot of sense, so I’m convinced it’s worth pursuing, maybe not for every piece but for some work streams, it sounds like a great process..

  28. Corinne


    July 15th, 2017

    Hey, I also didn’t get through the 15 types completely – because it’s too long. Alas, many have already stated that.

    Anyways, I wonder if you would rêview my LinkedIn pieces. I think you should look for writers who are already receiving the likes and shares like my pieces and then go from there.
    Versus asking people to submit work that hasn’t been graded by the public?

    What do ya say? My LI handle is

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 25th, 2017

      Hey if you can’t finish my post, I ain’t reading your LinkedIn pieces.

  29. Theodora Sarah Abigail

    August 16th, 2017

    Hey Doug! I liked this article so much that I decided to comment. I agree with all of your points—these hacks tend to pop up in my own writing, too!

    At the same time, I feel that the post /was/ a bit long. I think it would’ve been more digestible had you split it into two shorter posts—that way, you’re not alienating people with shorter attention spans. These days, everything is all about digestibility. Succinct, simple content always wins.

    I love your writing style so much that I’ve sent your Hiring team (and Tim!) an e-mail. Let me know if you see it! I’d love the opportunity to work with y’all, you seem like such personable people.


    1. Doug Kessler

      August 21st, 2017

      Thanks, Ebi.
      Will look out for that!

  30. Amy Schauland

    February 17th, 2018

    Forgive the bumping of an older post, but this was thoroughly entertaining, not to mention insightful. Read it twice. Might bookmark it. While I’d dearly love to be included in your first group (really good copywriters), realistically I probably fall into the second [adds Ann Handley’s book to Amazon cart.] Life goal 2018: Work way into Group #1.

    And I totally dig more fun crap in my inbox; you’ve duped another one. Bravo.

    1. Doug Kessler

      February 27th, 2018

      Thanks, Amy! Glad to have duped you…

  31. Jenifer

    September 7th, 2021

    Awesome Write-up! Really good informative article about B2B copywriting. This is exactly what I search in google. Thanks for sharing…

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