Selecting translation companies for copywriting: Seven tips for evaluating and choosing the right agency

Part four of our five-part series on international copywriting.
Your translation service agency –and the copy they produce for you– affects how an entire country and culture thinks about your products and services. No pressure or anything. Since you often don’t know the new language or culture, it’s critical to select a trustworthy, experienced vendor in the target country. Here are seven unbiased tips for evaluating and selecting the right translation services and copywriting agency.


Japanese translation company
translation and copywriting

International copywriting
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International copywriting:
7 Tips.

If you’re new to this blog or to the exciting world of translation services companies, you might want to start here to find out why “persuasive copy translation” services are such a big deal. By persuasive copy, we mean materials meant to persuade – such as sales, advertising and marketing materials or press releases. This ballgame differs significantly from translating straightforward text, such as user manuals.

For persuasive copy, picking the right vendor for you and your project is critical. Though we work for a firm, which offers English-to-Japanese copywriting services, we intend these tips to be unbiased, honest recommendations gained from our own experience. These seven tips will help anyone assess any translation services firm, so you can choose the best fit for you. Like tips? Check out this post on how to prepare for a translation project, once you’ve picked the right vendor.

1. Choose an agency, not a freelancer. There are thousands of brilliant freelancers in our business, but only an agency has the resources to handle the entire process of adapting marketing campaigns. We admit that this is a controversial statement. There are many freelance translators who genuinely believe that if they work together with the end-client’s local office they can produce ad-agency-quality marketing copy in the local language. The truth is that a freelancer and the client’s local office in the target country both have an interest in playing it safe. Yes, yes, of course they’re savvy enough to avoid literal translations but they’ll remain too “faithful” to the original campaign’s meaning.

When the client reviewer receives translated copy, he or she expects a specific meaning to be conveyed. Contrast this with the review process for transcreated copy. In the case of adapted copy, the actual meaning of the text could be practically anything. It doesn’t particularly matter what the copy says. What matters is what the copy does.

(We’re probably going to get angry mail about this from translation professionals. To understand the controversy in more detail, have a look at this discussion. Of course our industry wouldn’t even exist without professional translators. But the point here is that organized teamwork is required to create killer copy in local languages.)

If you want bold, creative copy, it takes a bigger team. You need to connect first of all with a main contact at the agency who speaks your own language fluently. That agency has to be able to assign to the project an entire team, who should be native to the target language and culture: you’ll want a native project manager, a native translator, a native proofreader, a native copywriter and an internal focus group to review the copy. No lone individual, no matter how dynamic, can manage all this on his or her own. Find the right agency.

2. Select a multi-service agency. Find a translation firm that offers not only translation and independent proofreading but also native copywriting in your target language(s). Find an agency that shows you a willingness to take the time to read your marketing brief, listen and ask clarifying questions, and build an ongoing service relationship with your team.

3. Pick an agency with someone who speaks your language – literally. If English is your native language, make sure that you connect with a translation company project manager (agency rep) who understands your language. Every step of your interaction with a translation company – negotiating your order, providing the brief, explaining the business context of the copy – requires close communication. Your agency rep needs to understand the nuances of the original copy and exactly what you want. He or she will need to have a sort of “mind meld” with you before he or she briefs the translator(s), proofreader(s) and the target language copywriter(s). So, if the rep is a native English speaker, that’s a big plus for you.

4. Choose an agency where you can get the same team for every job. Ask the agency rep if you’ll be able to rely on the same team for each job. Sometimes timing or special circumstances will require you to accept different teams at any given time. But if quality and consistency are important to you, it’s better to stick with the same team even if scheduling has to be delayed now and then.

5. Know your history and your goals – the more specific, the better. Be prepared to explain the sales or branding objectives of the campaign. Brief the translation agency rep on the creative processes that led to the current copy. What feeling or reaction is the reader supposed to have? What attitude does the campaign want to impart? What’s the broader context of the target market?

6. Make sure that details don’t get lost somewhere along the marketing campaign’s supply chain. If there’s a string of agencies outsourcing to other agencies on the project, be sure that a copy of the creative brief will be shared with all involved. For example, if the process starts at the end-client office, proceeds to an advertising agency, then back to the end-client, then to a home country translation agency and then to a target-language country agency, be sure that the brief gets passed along and that the most potent ideas in the campaign aren’t watered down or changed with each retelling. (Remember the childhood “telephone” game? Funny when you were five years old, not so with a five-digit project budget. Learn more about creative briefs here.)

7. Be wary of promised “perfection.” If you contact a copywriting team that claims to be infallible, run away! The best professionals will offer multiple iterations of the same copy. They’ll go out on a limb, try different ideas and brainstorm. They’ll have internal focus groups review copy and may change things as they learn more or get new insight into the project. Taking chances, being creative and sometimes failing, is all part of the process. Embrace it – your campaign will be better for it. Promise.

Your turn. What else should people consider when choosing a translation services agency? What did or will you look for in a translation service company? Scroll down and post a comment!

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