Beware of Copywriters …

A lot of copywriters are shameless automatons: they will give you what you say you want instead of what you actually need.

This past week I’ve had two clients who were asking for the wrong things and would have gotten lackluster results(zero or seriously anemic) had I agreed to abide by their wishes.

In the first case, there was a fellow who insisted on a staid, anemic, neutered version of his biography even though it could have been a converter instead of a placeholder.  He said he wanted a professional biography; by ‘professional’, I later learned, he meant the above-described staid, anemic, neutered version of his otherwise truly-compelling history!

And get this: his target audience for this particular “targeted bio” was school district administrators, just about the least staid, anemic, neutered population on the planet!

He liked my draft; wrote, “Looking good, Kris. I just have a couple of changes.” I made them.

Then he said, “I’ll run this by my partners for their input.”

Red flag! He hired me and liked what I wrote well enough to present it to his peeps. At that point, I had fulfilled my obligation to him in its entirety.

I never agree to write for committees at the basic prices I charge. If a client wants committee approval, my prices skyrocket!


Ask any professional copywriter; they’ll give the same response: “Because too few people on any committee ever appear to agree unanimously on anything, most especially the creative way in which something will be presented!”

My client was happy–until he heard from his partners. “Too chatty, too relational. Not professional enough.”

I reminded him that his target audience was relational.

Nevertheless, he wanted it rewritten because “nearly everyone finds fault with it .” (How many copywriters did he consult to reach this consensus?)  So he took a stab at making it more palatable to himself before sending it back to me based on their input.

Result:  it came out sounding like pablum.  75 to 80% of it was still mine, but its essence had been emasculated.

But fine… he was paying the bill. So I edited and enhanced what his committee had come up with.

And then they decided they just didn’t like it at all. Not really.

I still insisted that they pay me. I spent three hours dedicated to making sure his “case study” bio was going to hit his target audience squarely in the heart and head.  He liked it at first (with just two minor changes) but then let his partners convince him that they knew better than I do about how to go about it!

Fine. He still needed to pay the bill. And he did.  But then he tried to justify why he/they were right and I was wrong.  I just laughed to myself. Ya can’t justify the unjustifiable.

I would love to see them split test the two iterations to see how different the result will be between the two, but they won’t do that. They’re convinced they’re right. They’re scared to appear human, involved and passionate. They’re Spock-ian. No insult to Spock, but only Vulcans resonate to staid,unapologetic logic. Human beings buy on emotion and justify on logic.  There was no emotion in his committee’s final iteration; which is probably why they decided they didn’t like it after all and that it wasn’t working. Oh, my…

Cut off its balls and see how quickly its potency declines, folks!

It’s too bad… I have to feel sorry for him; otherwise, I’d be frustrated.  He hired a professional to do right by him…and then discounted my years of experience and my ability to engage his audience in a way that would have them saying, “Yes! We absolutely need his patent-pending new product!”

In the second case (and this one is ongoing)…

I quoted on a PR project, aced it, and got paid. They immediately wanted me for a second project. But I noticed right away–while trying to pry the talking  points for the first PR out of the office manager that I was dealing with—that she appeared clueless as to what her boss actually produced for his clients and why that was a good thing!  She was giving me airy-fairy responses that had zero substance to them!

And she balked (at first) at completing my Content Questionnaire. Oh, she took a brief  stab at it but left such vacuous responses to the very few questions she answered that they weren’t helpful. She said, “Your questionnaire is about a product or service. I want you to write about a person, my boss!’  (Her “product/service” is her boss.  The CQ serves both functions perfectly!)

Their media kit is laughable; their website is so substandard that is has to be shooting them in the foot. (Luckily, she says it isn’t “live” yet… that is, she hasn’t pointed anyone to it yet. THAT’S A GOOD THING!!!)

She wanted me to write a second PR on their upcoming live conference, so I asked for talking points. She sent me the three speakers’ bios! That was it! “Here you go!” she wrote cheerfully!

I said, “No. Bios aren’t news-worthy.  What I need to know is what topics they’ll be talking about and what will attendees’ ROI be?  That is, what will attendees take away from the event that will convince them that the time they spent away from their businesses and loved ones was time well-rewarded? What EXPERIENCE will they have? What will they know or learn as a result of their time with you?”

Dead silence.

That’s when it dawned on me that her boss has given her an assignment she doesn’t “get”.

She finally confessed to me, “We’re just starting this push. We don’t know what we’re doing.”

It’s clients like this one that can get taken to the cleaners by charlatans who will simply do whatever is wanted, no questions asked, without accepting their fiduciary responsibility to bring their clients up-to-speed so they don’t shoot themselves in the foot!

I let her know that I can counsel her and help but that it will add to the expense considerably.  I can’t be educating her at the cost of one Press Release! (I spent about two hours, up to this point, educating her gratis without mentioning that I need to be paid to counsel my clients extensively!)

She asked what counseling will cost. I said, “$60/hour.” (A steal of a deal, by the way. Most consultants worth their salt get $250/hour with a guaranteed four hours a day.)

Dead silence. At least for now. I did point her to several helpful  books that can bring her up to speed on what a press kit should be designed to do, what a PR should be designed to do, what a website must do to keep people on it for more than six seconds, and so on…

She needs to know these things if she’s going to be hiring providers to make them happen for her. She lucked onto me: I submitted a quote on her first project.  Had she chosen someone else, would they have taken as good care of her?

You just can’t be too careful when engaging with a service provider, including copywriters. There are too many wannabes and charlatans out there who can take you for a ride unless you look before you leap.

Don’t leave it to chance.  I know you don’t want to become a marketer, web designer, or copywriter but–for gosh sakes–at least familiarize yourself with the professionals you’ll be hiring so you don’t have to “pray as you go”…or you’ll end up “paying as you go” (in consult fees) to learn what you need to know before you sign on the bottom line and engage a professional.

Make sense?


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