Every word a copywriter produces must sell. Sell your ideas to the client, that is
“” Tom Albrighton (@tomcopy) October 9, 2012
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?
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.
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?