Writing to sell (your writing)

Tom Albrighton

ABC Copywriting

As soon as I wrote this facetious little tweet, I started asking myself whether it was true. Do we do just what the job calls for? Or is there an element of oiling the wheels by giving the client a little of what they fancy?

Copy, sir? Very good sir. And how would you like that done?

In principle, of course, there’s no distinction. Both client and copywriter are locked in on the target: benefit-stuffed, hard-selling, no-nonsense copy. But in practice, clients often want something more – or, perhaps, something less.

For example, many companies have ideas about themselves that they want to communicate. (I covered a few in my post on About Us pages.) Things like culture, values and history are all arguably extraneous to the sell, but firms still like to see them in print. So it’s tempting to include them in order to get the client on-side.

CD case

It’s a particlarly troubling issue for freelancers, who must be their own creative director and account handler when they deal with clients direct.

The heart says ‘stick to your principles’, but the head says ‘get it approved and invoice them’. Somehow, that internal dialogue has to be resolved into a professional persona that doesn’t come across as wildly inconsistent.

Being telepathic helps – or, failing that, drawing on experience to get a sense of what people probably mean.

The demand for something ‘creative’, which I personally dread, can mean anything from a head-spinningly radical concept (less likely) to a slight variation on what’s gone before (more likely).

In terms of tone of voice, I’ve often interpreted a request for informality too liberally, and ended up having to ‘re-formalise’ the text when the client baulked at my first draft.

Sadly for some, what works on an Innocent smoothie may not work elsewhere. And some clients just aren’t ready to display the vulnerability that’s communicated by the simplest, barest language.

Advocates and mouthpieces

If you’re working with an agency, there may actually be a ‘suit’ acting as a go-between. Depending on their character and/or mood, they will function as an advocate for your creative strategy, devolve into a mouthpiece for the client’s wishes or (ideally) strike a constructive balance between the two.

Before you take their call, it helps to be clear on which elements of the copy are essential, which are optional and which are baubles intended purely to please the client.

And if you’re going to ask the account handler to back your creative judgement, it needs to be a battle worth fighting, not just an arbitrary point of principle.

So, how do you approach this issue? Do you go to the stake for what you believe, even if it alienates the client? Or are you happy to concede a few changes here and there if the general strategy remains intact?


9th October 2012

Alastaire Allday

Good post. I find myself asking these questions a lot, too. My usual attitude is argue with the client up to a point, as most clients like to feel they’re getting an expert — but back down when the client shows clear inflexibility. Some clients are inflexible from the word go, others can be inflexible just to prove they’re the boss, you even get the occasonal client who gets angry if you ask for their opinion — as they are paying you to make the decisions!

Guess my point is it’s all about knowing the client — sometimes they want an expert, sometimes they want a yes man.

18th October 2012

Jackie Barrie

…or yes woman.

18th October 2012

Tom Albrighton

Yes person?

19th October 2012

Graham Soutar

Great post and have thought about this all day.
To be successful in selling, whether it’s products, ideas or yourself, you have to have a great relationship with your client. Both parties should be aware that neither has full control over the project and flexibility is the key. You have to ask the right questions and lots of them to really understand their needs & wants and then deliver.

1st December 2012

Angela McCann

I’ve recently had this problem with one of my new clients. The person whom I’ve been asked to work with seems to think they’re also a copywriter. So frustrating! They have ideas that simply go against grammar, editing, and copywriting ‘rules’. Maybe I’m too much of a ‘follow the rules’ type, but if a client is paying for a top quality piece, that’s exactly what they’ll get – not second rate copy. Try telling them why they can’t use exclamation marks after each word; try telling them why they can’t use capital letters in a sentence. They simply don’t listen and still want to do their own thing. Why employ a freelance copywriter if you can do it yourself? Needless to say, I’ve hardly got any hair left 😉

22nd February 2013

Mel Fenson

I came up against this recently and have ended up meeting the client in the middle (such a fence sitter!) The copywriting stickler on my right shoulder was saying ‘no no no, this word is overused, lacks true meaning and is superfluous!’ The strokey client lover on my left shoulder whispered ‘give ’em what they want, it still sounds better than a lot of the fluff out there…’ I amalgamated the two personas and hopefully didn’t create a monster.

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