Wednesday, April 2, 2008

what's the worst thing that can happen to a copywriter?

A kind reader/fledgling creative emails: "What's the worst thing that can happen to a copywriter? What's your worst experience?" She confides that hers was the discovery that the client (therefore, the account exec) was unhappy with her copy. "It really pulls down my morale now that the client wants to write their own copy. It means that I suck in my job."

Writer, take heart. A client disliking your copy is no indication that you suck at your job. If that were true, every copywriter on the planet would be fired for cause. Each of us has confronted the frustration of a client rejecting words that have been researched, labored over and revised several times before they're submitted for client approval. There are many reasons for this—but it is rarely that the copywriter sucks. Could be, the Clueless Client doesn't know what he wants to say and is using (misusing) the copywriter to discover what he doesn't. Or, could be an Account Type keeping creatives out of the client loop and feeding the copywriter misguided direction. (Try to interface with the client in this case.) Or, could be a Bottom Feeder Client requesting inane revisions in a vain attempt to second-guess superiors who terrify him. (Always try to deal with as senior a client as possible.) Or the Client is a frustrated creative herself (see Jane's post on this species) and is trying to put "her stamp" on the copy.

Remember, your job isn't to deliver up just what the client orders. This isn't fast food. If you're simply fulfilling POs, you won't have much of a career in a business where success is predicated on finding opportunities for clients that clients don't see for themselves. Which might include quirky turns in copy. Or even no copy at all.

It's important not to give the jerks in this business (of which there are plenty) the power to define your worth as a writer. (Some characters to watch out for are profiled in a definitive post by Joker today.) If you get negative feedback which you think is unfounded, have the gumption to push back. Pretend you're a lawyer hired to defend your client (the copy). Hone the ability to make a case for your work. Ultimately, your career relies on coming up with not just creative but with convincing ways to sell it to nervous clients. Otherwise, the only name you'll make for yourself is at the Speckies.

The worst thing that happen to a copywriter, IMHO, is that the brilliant campaign you've been working on for months suddenly appears on-air for your client's competitor.


Craig McNamara said...

I've faced that situation enough over the years that I made up a special section on my web site addressing that very issue:

(More advertising-related blather at

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Craig, just wandered over to your http, eager to see your take on the question. But...? Am i missing something?

Great story, contrarian. I wonder if his irresistible comeback worked...or cost him a (bad) client?

Anonymous said...

That story made my morning, Contrarian. Admittedly, it was only up against troubleshooting conflicting software updates, but still -- eggcelent, so thanks for passing it on.