Jackie Barrie

27 July 2012

Why buy a dog and bark yourself?

Dog barking

I was invited to write an ‘About’ page for a client. I did what I always do – sent him my standard 15 discovery questions, then spent an hour or so interviewing him over the phone. I researched his competitor websites and eventually came up with a tone of voice that was uniquely his, that made him stand out from the rest, and that included the psychological triggers that would appeal to his target audience.

I sent the draft copy.

After a few days, he wrote back (I paraphrase): “You have some great ideas but I want it to be more like the competition.”

Sadly, the customer is not always right.

In marketing copy, it’s important to be different.

Admittedly, it’s hard to be unique. But every business has a slightly different product or service, with their own individual approach or focus. A copywriter’s job is to find that difference, and express it in words that the client’s customers will respond to.

  • If you book a solicitor, would you go on to make your own legal decisions?
  • If you pay a dentist, would you try to extract your own tooth?
  • When you order a meal at a restaurant, do you go into the kitchen and tell the chef what to do?

Just because some people have learned how to throw a sentence together, doesn’t mean they are competent copywriters.

We have generally had training, achieved qualifications, or gained experience in what works and what doesn’t. We’ve taken time to learn how to wrangle words into submission. We are not distracted from running our core business into order to craft words that work. Writing IS our core business.

     Dear Clients,
     Please trust us to do what we are best at, so you can do what you are best at.
     Thank you.
     A Copywriter.

With the advent of Content Management Systems (CMS) where people can update their own websites, more and more are writing their own copy. That doesn’t mean that their copy will work – neither for search nor for readers. Remember, you get what you pay for. A proficient copywriter should be able to generate business that more than covers their costs.

Going back to the client above. We compromised. We kept the ‘About’ page the way he wanted and included some of my content on other pages.

And he paid me. Woof.

  • Dog barking

What do you think?

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Alastaire Allday

July 27, 2012 at 1:08pm

A classic!

I don’t get particularly upset if a client rejects a tone of voice I’ve suggested, nor do I seethe over their amends — tempting as it may be, I’m not writing novels, and the customer is always correct, at least when it comes to how they want to project themselves.

Except, of course, where they’re not. What gets my proverbial goat is when they insist on something that’s so counter-intutive and bad it will definitely harm their business. If they choose a way that’s different, fine. If they choose a direction that’s obviously worse…

The good news is I’ve found most clients are actually impressed when I’m willing to fight my corner, because they see I’m obviously trying to use my expertise to make them more money. They don’t always agree, but they know I have their interests at heart. It’s getting this message across, rather than seeming like a prima donna, that makes all the difference to how we are perceived.

Jackie

July 27, 2012 at 1:43pm

Hi Alastaire,

I’m not particularly precious about my copywriting, but agree the way the draft is presented to the client can make all the difference. In the old days it would have been face-to-face. These days it’s by email. Either way, the final version has to stand alone and work for the client’s customers, without the benefit of any justification or explanation.

Lucy Smith

July 29, 2012 at 1:29am

I’m not precious, but I will try and fight my corner. That said, I gave up when I had one client whose wife didn’t like what I’d written and sent through ‘ideas’. So I redrafted and incorporated her ‘ideas’ into the copy, with a note explaining why I’d done it the way I did. The next email I had from her was a Word document with changes tracked all through it, pretty much nixing everything I’d written and replacing it with what she’d previously sent. I did one more basic set of edits to get rid of her spelling and grammar mistakes, and sent it through. It was approved almost immediately.

It was a shame because what I’d done fit really well with the new design that the copy was meant to go with, but by the end of it looked, well, like the owner’s wife had written the copy. Had it been a bigger client I’d have fought harder but it was a small job that was paying a fair amount for the work I’d already done, but it wasn’t worth my time to fight a battle I knew I’d lose. I just really wish clients wouldn’t get their spouse involved more than necessary.

Jackie

July 29, 2012 at 10:41am

@Lucy. Ouch!

I’ve just had a similar situation with a website, where input from the client’s wife meant redoing everything ‘from scratch’. I requoted accordingly, and the final site ended up bigger and better for it.

On another occasion, the wife briefed me, the husband disagreed with the brief, they had a big argument in front of me and the job got cancelled!

Alastaire Allday

July 30, 2012 at 1:35pm

@Jackie

I don’t consider myself “precious” either but I know a lot of clients do — in fact, they consider all copywriters to be so. Ever notice how many freelancers’ websites make a big point out of saying they’re not like other copywriters, no hubris, no egos, etc? It’s because clients have this perception of us as hard to work with.

But that’s only because, as you point out, they’re rather keen on buying the dog then barking themselves. They’re willing to sit back and take advice when it comes to design etc, but they want a say in the words. I think that’s partly down to everyone being a bit of an amateur (everyone can “write” to an extent) but moreover it really reflects how important words are to the sales process.

That’s why I always go the extra mile to point out that when I disagree with a client, it’s because I’m trying to make them a lot more money. They seem to like that, at least!

Simone, Cambridge Copywriter

September 6, 2012 at 10:25am

Always fight your corner. Most people can come up with a decent description, but only the seasoned pro will be able to uncover and translate the USP of a product into engaging copy. Experience tells us what works and what doesn’t. There are plenty of campaigns gone pear shaped out there.

I throw in SEO expertise too – not every word has the same weight in a digital environment, plus one needs to write copy tailored to each social media tool.

Jackie

September 6, 2012 at 10:37am

@Lucy

You’re right that clients should be able to write about what they do. Trouble is, they’re often too close to it and unable to translate it into language that will appeal to their customers.

For example, I know an image designer who wrote her own website. For three months she had no enquiries. Not one. I rewrote it, and within a week she had four enquiries, including one from a corporate.

Another example. A mortgage adviser wrote his own website and paid a fortune on Adwords. His Analytics showed he was attracting traffic to his home page, but site visitors were immediately ‘bouncing’ away because they didn’t find what they wanted. I rewrote the home page, and within a week, site visitors were clicking through to the sub-pages.