Thursday, February 23, 2006

What's A Copywriter's Dream Client Look Like?

We've all heard the concept of "the dream client." And how are they described? They pay on time, they're fun to work with, etc. etc. Pretty generic terminology to describe a concept completely unique to each creative professional, isn't it?

So I thought, "Hey, I've had a bunch of clients in the past. And I remember which ones really were good to work with, and which ones weren't. Why don't I write a list of characteristics I want in MY dream client? That way I can keep an eye out in the future, and heighten my chances of coming across such clients."

Of course, being a copywriter, it wouldn't be fair to write out such a list without including all of you. Please take note, some of these characteristics may not be immediately apparent. Keep reading; it'll click in your head afterward, I promise.

For clarity's sake, I've divided the characteristics into two main categories: what Dream Clients ARE, and what they ARE NOT.

Note: I believe this list can also apply to other creative professionals: graphic designers, marketing/PR firms, photographers, printers, etc. Feel free to quote me (with proper credit given, of course)!

  • Large enough to appreciate good writing (and have the budget for it).
    This one goes toward the larger end of the business-size scale, and for good reason. Companies this size have a lot of writing that needs to be done, internally and externally. Web articles, news releases, SEO, policy manuals, intranet posts, department newsletters, promotional newsletters, media kits...I could go on.

    Companies that have this great a need for good writing are often in a perfect position to benefit from a copywriter, for two reasons. One, since they're that busy, handing off the writing to an employee or three severely drags down their (and by proxy the company's) productivity. Two, in a company with that much going, maximizing time is more important than saving money. So hiring a copywriter becomes the natural, smart thing to do.

  • Small enough to minimize the number of people looking over/trying to change my work.
    Here's where the seeming-paradox creeps in. But it's not a contradiction, honest!

    What I'm talking about here are companies that haven't lost a sense of community. Everyone knows (or knows of) everyone else under the company's roof. Surprisingly, my experience is that companies can number into the hundreds and not lose that sense of community. On the other hand, I've run across companies of ten that had an untrusting, deep-seated animosity toward fellow employees.

    The sense of community means that people are thinking with the same priorities, understanding each other's roles. A copywriter steps into that environment to poll those priorities, and write in such a way that shows their customers, "Hey, these are good people, and what they're providing will solve this problem, and this problem!"

    That won't happen in a company that's lost its sense of community. Everyone will want to inject their perspective, their ego, and their wording. The result is copy that's as fragmented and contradictory as the company it's written for. No copywriter can fix something like that.

  • Humorous.
    Come on folks, laugh a little! Like The Cluetrain Manifesto says, markets are conversations. People are so inundated with advertising now that they've all but tuned it out. If you want to really reach customers, you need to do so on a human level. And one of the best ways to be on a human level is to use a dash of humor.

    Now, a copywriter can make copy sound funny. Maybe evoke a little chuckle as the potential customer's reading. But that has to match to a company's image and overall attitude, too. If a customer makes an appointment with one of your representatives, and that rep is surly, boring or bland, the customer will register a disconnect in his thinking. "Wait, wasn't this the company that made that joke about their logo on the website? And now this guy's doing an impression of a marble statue? Why am I thinking about buying from them again?"

  • Working in an industry with a solid amount of competition.
    Competition means marketing. Competition means innovation. Competition means multiple project types, multiple buying seasons, and multiple audiences. We copywriters love multiples. Not only do they mean lots and lots of work, but it's a great challenge to massage and rework copy for different projects and audiences.

  • Trying desperately to stay on the bleeding edge.
    There's a reason it's called "the bleeding edge" - it's because you cut yourself when you fall off. By and large, when a company says it needs to be on the edge, I find it means they aren't confident in their policies. So they keep trying to find new ones, instead of improving what they have. Bouncing back and forth = nothing gets done. Nobody's happy with what they've got.

    While I think it's essential to always want to do more, if you're not standing on a few policies and fundamentals that everyone's confident in, a house of cards is more stable than your business. A copywriter, in that scenario, is running damage control. No thanks.

  • Focused on one marketing method.
    Diversifying your marketing is no longer a luxury of big corporations. Or the domain of trust-fund start-ups with cash to blow on big-time ad agencies. It's totally necessary for any marketing strategy.

    Internet marketing through websites and email, media contacts and community sponsorships, advertising and direct marketing - you need to create a mix using all these ingredients. If a company doesn't, and zeroes in on only one channel, they're passing up huge opportunities for big sales elsewhere. That's really cramping for a copywriter, and it will invariably produce problems in long-term sales goals.

  • Naive about the power of writing.
    I don't mind educating some customers about how much power words have over our thoughts and decisions...IF they want to learn about it. But if they're coming to me with the attitude of, "Well, we know how to write/know what our customers want to hear already," you know what they've told both me, the copywriter, and their own prospects?

    "We don't really need you. We've got it all figured out."

    I don't know about you, but I wouldn't even want to get a phone call from people like that - let alone write copy for them!

Wow. That was a lot longer than I'd anticipated! But it's informative, and serves the purpose. Companies out there, have a look. Maybe there's some aspect of these characteristics you've noticed lurking within your staff. Or maybe there's something positive here you'd like to add to your environment. Go for it! Tell them the Blue Ferret sent you!



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