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The top ten lies of copywriters

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
Picture of Matthew Stibbe
on 12 September 2013
Miscellaneous Writing

I really enjoyed Guy Kawasaki’s article the top ten lies of venture capitalists and the top ten lies of entrepreneurs. I’ve written here before about the top ten lies of PR companies. In this light-hearted spirit, here are the top ten lies of copywriters. And no, we’ve never used any of them. Honest.

  • ‘That deadline isn’t a problem’. If we work evenings and weekends and start mainlining the caffeine. Sometimes, I long to say to clients ‘lack of preparation on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.’
  • ‘Thanks for the helpful feedback’. Actually, feedback can be helpful, but briefing by review is very inefficient and frustrating.
  • ‘Happy to do another rewrite’. The most versions we’ve done on a single project was 18. This was a huge 25,000+ word project that had three multinational stakeholders and dozens of reviewers. Projects like that become a death march.
  • ‘We welcome the input of the legal / HR / PR / brand police’. They’re a necessary evil but they can be a pain when they stray out of their area of expertise and start giving helpful writing advice. After all, lawyers are the first people you go to for clear, unambiguous, easy-to-read copy.
  • ‘Your brief is fine’. Most clients give good, helpful briefs but sometimes all we get is the back of the fag packet with a few random ideas. Part of our job is to make sense of that but it’s easier if we don’t have to.
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  • ‘Of course I can redraft this’. Actually, you got the brief wrong, didn’t clear it with your boss and now she wants something different and we have to throw away two days’ work.
  • ‘Sure we have the bandwidth’. We don’t like to say no, even if we have to work harder or longer to get the job done.
  • ‘It’ll be done by Friday’. In many cases we’ll get it done a bit sooner but proofreading, editing and managing the project also takes time and it’s better to have a bit of breathing space.
  • ‘It’s the next thing on my to-do list’. After cleaning the fridge, tidying my desk and researching Soviet-era fighters on Wikipedia. Procrastination’s a wonderful thing.
  • ‘We don’t mind if you call it wordsmithing’. Actually, we do more than ‘write pretty’. We research, analyse, structure, persuade, inform, entertain and engage.

So, why do relationships between writers and clients go wrong?

  • Over-promising
  • Too-high expectations
  • Bad briefs
  • Writers don’t understand pressures on clients
  • Not enough feedback
  • Under- or late payment
  • Editing by committee (AKA death by redlining)
  • Editing by lawyer
  • I surrender. Just tell me what to write

What can we do about it?

Often, writers just eat bitter weeds and tolerate the intolerable. Sometimes, we throw our toys out of the pram and quit. Between these two extremes, there are other options.

But remember, relationships don’t fail because we write badly. We have to work at the the other stuff too. So here's how writers can meet their clients half-way:

Clients and copywriters - let's all learn to get along, shall we?

You website is your shopfront, get it right.

See also: copywriter

Related service: Marketing Strategy