Wednesday, January 21, 2015

When it Comes to Copywriting Clients, One Size of Writer Does Not Always Fit All

Remember Johnny Cochran's famous line about the glove during the O.J. Simpson murder trial? He had a point.

As a copywriter I consider myself a generalist--no particular industry/area of expertise, able to write about a broad range of topics and for a variety of industries or fields of endeavor with a few exceptions. But as general as I am, and as many clients I am able to work with, I have to say that sometimes, you just can't please 'em all. And sometimes, that one-writer-fits-all-clients simply doesn't fit.

I was contacted several months ago by a lovely person who is starting a new endeavor with a business partner. Could I write the copy for their new website? Sure, would love to, sounds great. But it wasn't.

Aside from the fact I did not adhere to my own process for writing website copy (having the client complete a questionnaire to gather necessary information/input, provide competitor websites as reference and identify competition in the marketplace), our writing relationship has teetered on disastrous. I blame myself for not managing the process and for not stepping out of it in time. It simply was not a good fit. We got stuck in a morass of confusing messages, stream-of-consciousness input, direction that shifted a few times; the client did not even have a company name when I dove into the project. After four drafts and about four hours of phone time and copy review, I gave up. I could not for the life of me capture their voice--the heart of the problem, I believe. I was lost in a sea of too many changes and could not find my way back to their USP, their brand promise, their mojo.


What Would Donald Trump Have Done?
What I should have done, after the second go-round, is politely fire myself from the project. I have since done so, asking a colleague to handle any further edits because at this point, I can't see straight! (The website developer has had similar issues with the client--they don't know what they want until they see it, many revisions, no clear direction ...)

Because it is so important to me to have happy clients, I did not charge her for a lot of the work. She paid me up front to write four pages of copy, which was the original scope of the project; I'd written two others and edited (heavily) an additional two pages at no charge since I could see this was not going so well (although I have to say, to their credit, they have been very gracious and kind on the phone). After a point I advised the client to rewrite what I gave them in the way they wanted and I'd tweak and edit it to make sure it reads well. I was gratified to see they did use some of my copy throughout, and I gave them back their edited pages. At this point I have no clue where the project stands and I'm afraid to ask. But I am relieved to not suffer through any more changes and I am betting they're also relieved to not have to explain, once again, what they are looking for that they aren't seeing on the page.

So word to me and to the wise: If you're not a good fit for the client or the copy, move on! Replace yourself with someone who is a better fit, and you'll all be happier. I know I am.