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Ken Magill

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All I Have to do is Not be a Jerk? Oh. Okay.

1/6/15
 
By Ken Magill
 
I had a conversation with a new client last week that hinted at what a bunch of jerks some marketing and advertising copywriters can be. 
 
I had sent her over a bunch of headlines for possible angles on some promotional copy she wanted written, and asked for feedback.
 
She replied with a thorough response, including the deletion of headlines she didn’t like and comments on what she thought were solid ideas and some she thought were tired.
 
Armed with these new insights, I thanked her in a reply email and began to work on copy based on her feedback.
 
Shortly, the client called to verify that I was okay with her comments and criticisms. I told her it was exactly what I was looking for.
 
She seemed surprised I wasn’t upset. 
 
And not for the first time in my career, I was profoundly embarrassed for the entire profession of copywriting. Time and time again I have heard stories of people working with copywriters who were prima donnas, easily damaged little snowflakes or some combination of the two.
 
“They all think they’re artists,” said my ad-executive wife who has worked with dozens of copywriters over the years. “[Former colleague copywriter Bill] used to act like every word that came out of his mouth was a pearl.”
 
There is a reason writers form groups: So they can preen. 
 
Over the years I have been pretty tough on designers for too often being overly self-indulgent.
 
But copywriters often exhibit the same characteristics. It’s not acceptable. And the people overseeing—ie. paying—them shouldn’t abide by such behavior.
 
On the other hand, it has occurred to me that all I have to do is avoid acting like a complete jerk to be perceived favorably by clients. But, of course, that is not enough.
 
I would like to offer a series of promises to anyone who brings me on as a copywriter. And to those who don’t hire me, hopefully the following can serve as a guide to the kind of behavior you should expect from copywriters you employ:
 
I will deliver copy on the promised date. If I can’t make a deadline, you will know it immediately after I realize it.
 
Unless my name is on the work, I will not argue over edits. You’re the client. You’re cutting the checks. As I said to a client once, “as long as my name isn’t on it, it can say ‘we enjoy jamming marbles up our asses’ if you’d like. It’s your copy. It will say what you want.”
 
Likewise, I will not question your source material except for informational purposes. A client once told me of a copywriter who kept asking to speak to his analysts to challenge their findings. This is not the copywriter’s job. Writing copy is the copywriter’s job.
 
I will not get sensitive and combative when you point out portions of my work you don’t like. While there are certain best practices when it comes to sales copy, it is still subjective. If I use a word or turn of phrase you don’t like, say so. I won’t pout. I’ll simply stop using the word or turn of phrase.
 
Copywriting is not art. It is a craft. I consider writing copy similarly to the way a carpenter views making furniture. I take great pride in my work. But I don’t take myself overly seriously. I don’t need my ego stroked. You can show me you appreciate my work by buying it—hopefully repeatedly. 
 
I understand business copy often goes through a multi-layered approval process. I also understand every organization has a high-level executive who fancies himself a writer. As a result, bad edits often come with the territory. When I see them, I’ll make suggestions, but I will not dig my heels in. That’s not my job.
 
If the boss insists on putting the redundancy “completely” in front of “destroyed,” well then, “completely destroyed” it will be—again, as long as my name is not on it.
 
I will do the work with as little contact with you as possible. You hired me to get work off your desk, not add to it. A simple Google search can usually suffice to answer questions. That is where I will go before I contact you. I will take up your time only as a last resort.
 
I will deliver your copy without introductory explanations. After all, I won’t be around to explain it to your customers and prospects. Either copy stands on its own or it does not.
 
My aim in every interaction with you is to convince you to want to work with me again and recommend me to others. 
 
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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

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