What’s your award work worth, Wordsworth?

Illustration by Ambroz

Wordsworth didn’t write many award entries. Didn’t win many awards either, as far as I know. But in a compendium of copywriting-wrongs, award entries could be the best example to us all of how to be paid more fairly for our work…

The nominations are…

When your client is simply the best at what they do (and therefore likely to win an award), being asked to craft copy for their submissions is a privilege. You can almost visualise the tableplan, imagine the ceremony, hear the acceptance speech … jeepers, pitch your work well enough and you might have a hand in crafting that, too. But after you’ve submitted the entry, you also have to submit an invoice.

Ah. If ever there was a bitter, bitter-sweet chalice of copywriting poison from which to sup, boys and girls, then this is the one – because most award entries are created the same way.

And the award goes to…

In Scenario A, your client provides all the key information, statistics, details and judging criteria you need to craft a viable entry. You may have to rummage around for a steer on the current market mood and find out what the judges have ‘voted up’ in the past, but that’s about the size of the thing. Couple of URLs. An hour on the internet. The brief ain’t no biggie, as they say. In fact, the client may be wondering why they’ve hired a copywriter at all.

The deadline approaches, every contestant worth their salt phones the organisers to ask for an extension, the final drafts are uploaded, and your client’s entry goes into a pile to be evaluated against the scribbles sent in by their competitors. Unfortunately, in this scenario your client doesn’t win a thing. Shock. Scandal. Sob, sob, sob. Et cetera.

In Scenario B, exactly the same thing happens, different result. Cue the fireworks, PR girls start paying for champagne, media planners get excited, self-congratulatory ad space gets confirmed and everyone goes home looking forward to a sodding great whispering hangover the next day. Happy-happy-joy-joy, copywriters across the land start a virtual Mexican Wave – from the shadowy depths of writing sheds, and in the comfort of their cocoa-stained PJs, a rash of self-congratulatory semi-colons are left, right, and centre-aligned, just for the heck of it.

So tell me, Shakespoke. Scenario A, Scenario B, to be or to be not – did you agree on a per word, per hour, or per entry based fee for your work when you quoted?

No win, no fee

In terms of copywriting-wrongs, there’s been much discussion in the forum – and long may it continue – about how one puts a valuation on copywriters’ work. Chris West has an extremely valid stance on this very topic, which he descibes in his own blog here (and I can’t believe I’m giving links away). Setting a price on your ability to string a few words together is a daunting task, made doubly difficult by the fact our clients rarely appreciate the actual work we have to do for them. Let’s be blunt: evaluating your own talent as a freelance manager / account wrangler / creative-dude handler / receptionist / editor / proofer / accountant / gopher … and then relating that to someone who *doesn’t* do the same thing for a living … <and breathe> … can be a bleedin’ nightmare.

Personally – crisp as it may sound – I think a little healthy competition is good. As long as there’s a piece of copy, somewhere, that’s been written ‘for pennies’, I’m happy to improve it for pounds. Aren’t you?

Try this for size. Instead of talking numbers, take courage in hand (put down your pens for moment) and the next time you’re putting a value on an award submission, at the very least say ‘tell me, how much business uplift would you get from that award over the coming year?’

There’s a spreadsheet for that kind of calculation, y’know.

Courage, my friends; cour-aaage…

I had this discussion with a client recently. Half a dozen award entries, short notice; usual thing. We danced around the subject of quotes and costs for a while. The client doo-dahed about budgets. I mumbled something about loving my job – and then I opened my post. Two minutes, two heart attacks and two utility bills later, my next email’s opening gambit was, ‘if you don’t win, don’t pay me’. This, on the basis I was confident they’d come home with some silverware and I had very little else to do that day except witter about the cost of keeping warm these days.

My client was stunned. Surprised; greatful; suspicious. Eventually, they  sent me an email asking, ‘OK, but how much will it cost us if we *do* win?’ ‘Ah. That’s simple,’ I replied. ‘For each award you *do* win, i’ll charge you £2,500.’

Oh dear. Another – even longer – stunned silence from the client.

And, at a guess, a few raised eyebrows and some sharp intakes of breath from you all.

A win-win solution

They agreed. Turns out, after some uncomfortable shuffling from their PR guys and some bottom-lip wibbling from the bean-counters reponsible for next year’s budgets, someone *did* work what an industry award would do for their business in terms of the ol’ bottom line. You know this is true: the sum of £2,500 isn’t even close to being a moist hint of vapour on the surface of a droplet in the ocean of comparative commercial gain. Not. Even. Close.

Factoring in reasonable arguments about time invested, effort exerted, experience drawn upon, insights deployed, ink, paper, coffee and rum all coming at a price … I don’t know that I’d have the courage to take the same hard-nosed, balls-out line with any other piece of work. And did it pay off as a gamble, that time? Sodding great NDAs prevent me from telling you – and anyway, I wouldn’t have cared – I really do love my job.

Maybe we should all think about it, though.

What’s your view? For award entries at least, could we set an industry-wide standard … and ask clients to value our work based on the measurable ROI for their business? Should we? Would you?

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