I first encountered what I call ‘writer danger syndrome’ when I started copywriting in a bustling design agency in Oxford 20 years ago.
I had a philosophy degree, and they couldn’t think of anything else for me to do. But I was lucky. Philosophy teaches you to deconstruct complex ideas, razor the fluff, dig up the truth.
And toiling away under the dreaming spires, I discerned one truth that stuck:
You don’t write for the client – you write to their customers.
Which is obvious: If my words don’t lead to increased subscriptions, social shares and purchases, the client is not going to be a happy bunny, right?
And yet, especially with new clients, 3 things happened then – and still happen now – that make this truth more complicated than it should be.
1) The client knows their customers better than the writer ever could.
Nine times out of ten the client works in an industry that is new to me.
They sell things like portaloos or fancy dress outfits. They know their market their customers competitors and industry influencers better than I ever could.
So I ask for EVERYTHING they have. Names. Links. Social media haunts. I put my true detective hat on and build a ‘crazy wall’ in my bedroom (not really, but you get the gist).
But all I really needed to know is this:
What problem does your brand solve?
Answer that, the rest will follow. If not, we’ve both got our work cut out.
2) Writer danger syndrome.
I’ve worked in small businesses. So I know what it’s like to think of your brand as your baby.
To live and breathe nothing but that baby smell. To pour your heart and soul into getting that ruddy-cheeked tot to crawl, then walk…
So I get it when a client has writer danger syndrome.
Especially when I’m saying it’s time the mollycoddled brat lost the braces and lived a little.
Which is why when I see writer danger syndrome, I’m happy to take it slow and start with things like a blog post. A brochure. A flyer. The ‘How to Keep Your Portaloo Clean’ page.
And when the client can see their child is in safe – and clean – hands, ramp things up.
3) The second writer in the room.
Every writer will tell you they are not precious. That they are happy for their work to be red penned or its premises challenged.
They’re lying. Writers take great pride in seeing their work out there. And they don’t want to share the limelight – especially if the client isn’t a writer – if they are, why hire a copywriter in the first place?
My way out of this elephant packed room is simple: Ask the client to put my work out there and invite their customers to unsheath their red pens.
If customers find the new copy confusing. If the tone-of-voice isn’t on their wavelength. If it doesn’t connect to them emotionally and solve their problems, I’ll hold my hands up.
But one thing all writers know – often from painful experience – is that copy born out of a clash between two competing styles will be a lot more confusing and unintelligible.
Which is why one instantly identifiable style and tone-of-voice are two things the client and the writer must agree on before a single word is ever written.