Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

NDA Viewpoints: The rise of the in-house writing guru

By Meg Roberts, Creative Director at Schwa

There’s nothing new about companies hiring writers. Most have them, even if they’re operating under pseudonyms: content creators, UX writers, information architects and comms teams are all wordsmiths in one way or another. 

But in the past year or so, more and more of our clients have come to us asking for help finding a slightly different sort of person. Someone who’s as happy talking about writing as doing the writing. Someone who can coach the rest of the business on their communication. 

A day in the life of this new sort of person

I asked my friend Harry Ashbridge — Monzo’s lead writer — what his life was like as the champion of good communication in his company. “I guess my overall job is: make sure all our writing works hard for our customers and sounds like us,” he said.

“When I first started, it was about doing lots of different pieces of writing for people to show that words matter everywhere — terms and conditions, app screens, complaint responses, you name it. These days, it’s more about running training sessions to help our tone stick, and making sure our team of writers know who they’re coaching, training or writing for all over Monzo, too.”

More companies are looking for people like Harry

Like iwoca, a fintech lender which is currently hiring for its own in-house writing expert. “We’ve been working on our tone of voice for nearly a year,” said Jake Mellett, Head of Brand, iwoca. “And we’ve come really far — training nearly everyone, simplifying all our customer comms. But to really make sure the change sticks, we need someone to champion the programme internally — yes, they’ll be a brilliant writer, but they’ll also be able to get others on board.”

So why the rise? Tone of voice projects are more important than ever 

Step back from what’s happening in companies, and think about our lives as consumers. We’re all dealing with brands in a mind-boggling variety of wordy ways: we’re booking tickets with chatbots, we’re conversing with Alexa. And as natural as these interactions might feel for us, the users, they’re all scripted conversations. Brands are writing more than they ever have before, in more nuanced ways. 

Let’s stick with banking as an example. Five years ago, a bank was doing well if it could write its terms and conditions in plain English. Flash forward to 2019 and Harry’s team at Monzo litter its small print with emoji; the business bank ANNA talks about ‘busy bees’ and ‘faff’, and Cleo updates you on your finances with various different pop culture gifs. When it comes to how banks communicate today, there’s as much voice and variety as shampoo bottles on shelves. 

But keeping all that colour and character alive is a full-time job

You can write pages of guidelines; you can train hundreds of people, but if those things are all you do, nobody will remember any of it in a year. 

The trick to tone of voice isn’t having the baby; it’s keeping the baby alive. It’s a behaviour change, and behaviour change takes time and effort. It takes follow-up training. It takes regular reminders. It takes months of rewriting every email template you have. In other words, if you really want your tone of voice to stick, remember: this baby needs a full-time carer.