What is the matrix? The secret tool for focused copywriting

June 24, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Productivity 

copywriting matrixIt’s happened to you. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to all of us.

We take on a copywriting assignment, ask for some background information, then squeal in horror when a truck pulls up to the door with 7 tons of brochures, reports, ads, surveys, and other stuff.

Well, here comes Sally Bagshaw to the rescue. This is Sally’s second guest post and it’s simply brilliant. Ignore it at your own peril.


Warning, this post may contain graphic descriptions of spreadsheets!

There’s a lot of talk about blank pages being a copywriter’s nemesis. Staring at that blinking cursor on your screen, willing yourself to begin writing, wishing that the client had sent more than “make it sizzle.”

It’s the stuff of nightmares, right?


I think having too much information is far harder to manage.

Drowning in background material is overwhelming, time consuming, and if you’re not careful can result in lukewarm copy – no sizzle at all.

It happens innocently enough. You ask your new client to send through some background material about them, about the company, about their services.

Maybe you haven’t worked together before; maybe they have never worked with a copywriter.

Then your email starts going crazy as the client happily sends you every single scrap of content or communication he can find. You’ve got old annual reports, brochures, presentations, workshop notes and speeches – so much background material that you’ve hit a problem.

It’s going to take longer to go through all of this information than the amount of hours you’ve set aside to write the copy.

There’s so much information that you don’t know where to start.


And now that you’ve seen it, there’s an expectation from the client that you’ll use it in some way. You may find that when you send your first draft through, the client will say, “But didn’t you see page 68 of the annual report? I would have thought that was important enough to include in the about us section.”

So what do you do? How can you take control and regain focus?

It’s simple: Develop a “content matrix.”

It’s still going to require you to read the content – but you won’t be obliged to use it all in your copy. It will allow you to choose what’s going to help you, and what you can leave sitting on the sidelines.

Step 1: Document all the background material

Create a spreadsheet (I did warn you) with the following columns:

  • Title of material (The 2010 Widget Product Catalog)
  • Content type (brochure, annual report etc.)
  • Year it was published (so you can guess how up-to-date it is)
  • Target audience (shareholders, customers, employees, etc.)
  • Main call to action (or goal if it isn’t sales information)
  • Key messages

Step 2: Document your project

On a fresh sheet in the spreadsheet create the following columns for your project:

  • Title of project
  • Content type
  • Target audience
  • Key messages
  • Call to action
  • Potential background information

See that I’ve used Potential background information? Here’s your chance to ditch the irrelevant material and list only what’s going to be useful.

Step 3: Show the matrix to your client

Email your client a copy of the spreadsheet. They may be surprised at the amount of material they’ve sent through. Make sure they agree with the information describing the project you are working on.

The benefits of the content matrix

It’s a simple idea, but it does have some real benefits:

  • It shows that you have taken the time to at least open the attachments that the client sent through, so they feel acknowledged.
  • It shows you are organized (well it is in spreadsheet).
  • It keeps your client (and you) focused on the project at hand. “Yes Bob, I know your speech to the investors went down really well at the conference, but we agreed the key message for this web content was going to be different.”
  • You can easily add new projects or background material to the spreadsheet as your relationship grows with your client.
  • You can quickly see where the gaps are in the client’s content mix, so you can potentially get more projects from it. “Look Bob, after reviewing the matrix it seems like you have a real gap in the communication with your investors – how about we work on some new investor relation material next.”

And best of all you feel in control. Consider it a life preserver to help you stop drowning in a sea of background material.

Have you ever been overwhelmed with background material before?

Sally Bagshaw is a web copywriter and content strategist who secretly loves spreadsheets. Visit her website at www.snappysentences.com.

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Smart Comments

5 Comments on What is the matrix? The secret tool for focused copywriting

    [...] What is the matrix? The secret tool for focused copywriting Published: June 24, 2010 Source: Pro Copy Tips It’s happened to you. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to all of us. We take on a copywriting assignment, ask for some background information, then squeal in horror when a truck pulls up to the door wi… [...]

  1. Merryl Rosenthal on Jun 24th, 2010 9:59 pm
  2. Thanks for a brilliant solution for information overload.

    Having experienced mountains of material several times, I’ve learned to organize it in order to preserve my sanity. However, I never created actual spreadsheets or the parameters you suggest. I’ll do that from now on!

    Cheers. :)

  3. Sally Bagshaw on Jun 24th, 2010 10:19 pm
  4. Hi Merryl
    I’m glad you found the post useful. Sanity preservation is definitely something we should all aim for :)

  5. Dean Rieck on Jun 24th, 2010 10:46 pm
  6. Sally,
    For some of us, it may be too late.

  7. Janjan on Dec 10th, 2011 4:10 am
  8. It may be too late to use matrix technique to some of us cause there are already lots of projects done. But content matrix can be use for your next content. This is a very useful cause it can make us more organized & focused on the project. Thanks for the tips.
    Nice Post