Working with clients can be simultaneously the most fulfilling and the most frustrating experience of your life. Any freelancer or consultant can tell you that. What they usually have difficulty expressing is where that frustration comes from, and what can be done about it.
The problem is really pretty simple: as professionals in our field, we know (or have a good idea) of what the client needs to succeed. Unfortunately, this isn’t always what the client wants for their brand. How do you reconcile your expertise with their idea of who they are and where their brand is going? Better yet, how do you do it without resorting to drinking, bashing your head against the wall, or both? Read on.
1. Don’t be brief. A lot of smaller digital agencies have been skimping on creative briefs. Don’t. Give your clients a detailed and in-depth brief of your brilliant idea before you start writing a single word of copy. Explain where your creative is going and why you think this is a good idea. Talk about how it will fit with existing campaigns and marketing efforts, and draw a raimondo of where you picture your creative taking their brand. If the client doesn’t like it, it’s much easier, and less emotionally draining, to update or scrap a creative brief than a full creative campaign.
2. Make it Persona-l. Before you even start thinking about possible directions for creative, it’s important that you and your client agree on who your targets are. Do your research (assuming the client hasn’t done theirs, and a lot of them haven’t), and create a few personas to describe their ideal customers. We like giving them names to personalize things and make it easier for the client to understand our points. Your personas should include some basic demographic information, but more importantly they should describe how these people interact with your client’s brand and with the larger online ecosystem. Things to include are motivations of the personas, what magazines they read and subscribe to, where they shop and what brands they prefer, blogs they read, twitter accounts they follow, etc. This will also help tremendously in finding distribution outlets to get the content placed on.
3. Don’t argue, persuade. Having a client shoot down your copy hurts. I don’t care how professional you pretend to be or how much you talk about compartmentalization and how many times you throw out comments like “Oh, it’s just a job.” Bullshit. Good copy is art, and good copywriters are artists, and art is ALWAYS personal. The worst part is, the better the copy, the more of yourself you’ve poured into it, and the more it absolutely sucks to hear a client say “Well, we were thinking of going with something a little more…I don’t know….stupid.” Don’t lose your cool about it, and don’t argue. Arguing is just going to put the client on the defensive, and then you’re absolutely screwed because not only do they not like your copy, they also don’t like you. Instead, acknowledge their concerns, and be ready to produce a well-formed and well-researched rebuttal defending your work.
Chances are, the client will bring up some good points that it will behoove you to listen to. Pay attention, and pick out the nuggets of wisdom from the rest of the mechanically separated chicken. That said, if you have a good reason for the way you wrote your copy, stand up for it. Just don’t be an asshole about it. Use facts, use figures, use whatever research you collected earlier, and try to meet the client halfway.
4. Don’t bend over. If you really believe your copy is the best copy for the situation, don’t back down. If you have a very good reason for believing that your copy will get the best results (and I mean a GOOD reason, not “I wrote it and can’t take criticism.”), then stand up for it. Fight for your copy, and fight hard. Don’t let it get watered down to the point where it will be completely ineffectual, because when the numbers aren’t coming in, it’s not going to be your clients ass on the line. It’s going to be yours! If you think the copy you’re giving the client is the copy they need, don’t be afraid to say so, even if it’s not the copy they want.
In the end, if your client is demanding you give them shit copy and refuses to listen to your well-reasoned and politely-stated counterpoints, then it is up to you to fire them. If you can afford to do so, great. If you can’t, you should still think long and hard about it. Whatever you do, do not acquiesce to putting out bad copy. Not only will it lead to expectations from the client that you’ll bend over and accept whatever god-awful idea they come up with, it ultimately sets you up for failure and reflects poorly on you. If you wouldn’t want something you wrote showing up in your portfolio, don’t write it. Trust me.