Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You may be a winner! Or...maybe not.

I jinxed myself.

Last week over at the always thought-provoking Teenie Thoughts, copywriter/blog philosopher-in-residence Teenie lamented getting copy back that has been "hacked and twisted and uncarefully rewritten." Smartaleck that I am, I responded glibly that "I don't try to fight it anymore" when someone wants to change my words.

Which is all well and good until I was reminded today that "not fighting it" occasionally comes with its own peculiar punishment.

The backstory: A long-time, loyal client needed a one-time-insertion newspaper ad for a sweepstakes giveaway. The prize was terrific--worth several hundred dollars. The challenge, though, was that I couldn't write the copy I'd ordinarily recommend for a case like this, i.e., an unsubtle screamer that pounded home the message WIN A *BLANK* AT *BLANK* WORTH $XXX!!! This company's branding approach simply won't accommodate such crassness; and belaboring that point with my contact would only frustrate us both, since she knew it was a battle she couldn't win with her higher-ups.

I did my best to harden up the soft-sell approach, and off the ad went to design. Approved, and off it went to the printer.

In the back of my head, I was clinging to a hope that the ad might work despite itself, based on the strength of the offer (albeit buried deep in the copy, *sigh*) and the company's name. In the front of my head, I knew that was pathetically naive. So, when I contacted the client this morning to inquire about the results, I was unsurprised to find out the response rate was crummy.

There are a lot of painful aspects to me about this, not the least of which is that, given exactly the same scenario again, I'm not sure I'd be able do anything differently. Just call it a TKO before the bell even rang.


  1. Surely you can bring up the results of this experience to help prove that the way you would normally approach the project was the right way to go?

  2. Absolutely, Rob--I plan to use this as an opportunity to raise the topic. This is the first time I've got empirical information, which is key.

    My hunch, alas, is that they're not going to be willing to get wacky, or even classy-wacky. I didn't tell the whole backstory here...but I'll just say I've done enough projects with them to know where the third rail is.

    In their defense, they've probably quadrupled in size in the past decade, so the people at the top obviously are doing something right even if they're being more cautious than they probably need to be on the ad side. My hope is to convey that no one will think less of your company if you do something a little outlandish every once in a while!

  3. Or just don't bury the lead!

  4. I've been similarly frustrated. I have a longtime client at a small PR firm who sends me newsletters for one of his major clients. He wants me to do a basic copyedit, but more often than not, the copy is chock-full of barely intelligible lines. (They're not full sentences, and they're not composed by writers or editors.) My gut tells me I should be charging this guy more than I do to be fair to myself, because I end up doing a heavy copyedit for the price of a light one.

    Thing is, this guy was one of my first clients and I'm not sure I would have had any other "in" to the field had it not been for him. I'm afraid he would be offended if I raised my rates.

  5. Ah, thanks for the nod, Jake!

    Just back from a quick vacation and catching up on my blog reading--as well as the myriad changes on the projects I thought were well and done before I left. Oh, the subtle word changes and mangled copy! And that's just from our sister agency. Lord knows what the client will do once they finally see it...

  6. Chicago Editrice, thanks for weighing in. That's a tough situation, particularly with your feeling of psychological indebtedness. Based on what you're saying, however, you've probably repaid (and maybe overpaid) that debt. You might just want to have a frank conversation and let him know, very nicely and gently, that his projects have been taking longer of late. "Gee, I was just going through my time sheets and invoices, and I saw that I'd originally bid the project at 5 hours and it's been taking closer to 7." Yadda yadda. I'd definitely do it in person or over the phone.

    And Teenie, welcome back! Hmm, if copy gets mangled in the forest, and there's no one around to hear it...