To all you copywriters out there – this one’s for you! Dedication to your client and determination to finish the job is admirable. But you have to ask yourself how far you’re willing to compromise your professional integrity. Create a job progress sheet with quality checks. I didn’t here! Ooof.
I keep writing this Blog in the hope that other people ‘out there’ will benefit from my trials and tribulations as an English Copywriter. Occasionally I have a subject that emerges from a recent job experience – as in the present case, which I’d like to share with you.
All of us in the copywriting business welcome rising to a challenge. So when a client comes with a document that he/she has written and says “It’s boring and gray…give it creativity and bring it to life”, it’s something that really gets us going, right?
Starting with good intentions
A large high-tech company, with thousands of employees worldwide and several international offices, asked me to help them with a marketing-oriented version of their Product Support information. The Product Support Director had written a 16-page document about being innovative in the product support world – a treatise that reached close to 5000 words. The request on the table was to make his information far more engaging for readers by turning it into an interesting e-book. At the first client meeting I said that in order to achieve this, the word-count would have to be cut down to about half its original volume. My client nodding at this point but added ‘Yes, but I want to include what I’ve written’. My antennae should have been tuned better!
Brainstorming for the right ‘trigger’
The next step was to find an interesting analogy/story line that could work with the product support services and products offered at various levels. The creative team (copywriter/graphic designer) was asked to focus on the innovative ideas being offered in the industry and to imply that the customers of such product support services would be more attracted to companies that showed a novel and proactive approach.
What could work with Product Support? Perhaps Fitness Training. After all, in product support you rely a lot on experts guiding you to understand and apply your systems better. At higher levels there’s a great deal of Personalized Support. Similarly in Fitness, you move ahead by adopting a more methodical and planned approach. If you want to participate in competitive sports, then you’ll need the help of a Personal Trainer. You can see how the two stories – the two tracks – can be interwoven.
I also had the benefit of reading some of the Straight Talk booklets produced by Deloitte Consulting (for example: a booklet dealing with Customer Relationship Management called ‘How To Eat The CRM Elephant’) http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-UnitedStates/Local%20Assets/Documents/us_consulting_stbk2_crm_290806.pdf. I didn’t plan to go as far as this, but felt that the general light-hearted direction was good.
Making it all fit together
What followed was an intense creative writing session where I developed an interesting story line for the company’s ‘innovative product support’ information on the one hand and in parallel made the connection to the Fitness world. The balance was slightly in favor of the product support story but there was enough on the Fitness side to support the graphics side, which showed all kinds of Fitness activities. Looking over my shoulder at the CRM booklet, I applauded Deloitte for embracing their creative idea and having the guts to follow through on it without feeling the need to cram it with technical details of every kind (i.e avoiding the typical high-tech trap!).
‘Fine tuning’ that became a total re-write
Up to that point, the feedback that I’d received from my client was: “we think it’s a great idea and has been well developed”. Then the whole project got derailed. The client said “We want you to fine-tune the texts a little: instead of the story being 55% Product Support and 45% Fitness, we want you to make it 80% Support and 20% Fitness. We also want you to include all the information we had in our original document.” Forget about ‘fine tuning…this was a complete ‘rewrite’! I should have junked the project at that point, but I had agreed to payment upon completion so I had to finish it.
Draining away the creativity
In gradual stages, the creativity that I had instilled was systematically drained away as we aligned ever closer to the client document that had started the whole process. I felt that the client was paying lip-service to the idea of a refreshing and original e-book. He simply wanted to dress up his document in e-book clothes. Moreover, at a final word count of over 3000 words we had achieved little in making it more succinct, readable and interesting. What a great shame – when one considers what ‘might have been’.
Lesson to be learned from all this
I think that running an ambitious and creative communications project needs a great deal of understanding and commitment, particularly by the client. It’s very easy to slip back into the ‘comfort zone’ of purely technical information which is the standard (if boring) approach. Copywriters who are asked to deliver highly creative work need to be very aware that this will consume far more time than normal, and charge accordingly. If such a quotation isn’t accepted, it’s clear that the client doesn’t understand or appreciate what’s involved. So be on your guard.
(Postscript: About a week after I finished the job I was asked to do one last proofreading pass on this e-book text. It gave me an opportunity to look at everything again from a wider perspective. Was the client team happy with the outcome? Sure! Was the graphic design team happy? Yes. Was the originator/content writer happy? Far from it!! Why? Because he felt that the whole thing was far too heavy and client-serving and would have minimal interest for prospective readers not inclined to wade through tons of text to find the main points.)
Sadly, it’s one of those jobs that I can’t use as a good reference, despite the ‘big name’ client.