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The bad, the bad and the bad: how should creatives handle terrible ideas from clients?

Andrew Boulton is a senior lecturer on copywriting and creative advertising at the University of Lincoln. He’s also a copywriter with over a decade of scribbling experience at top creative agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

I have an idea for a West End musical version of the 1970s killer bee film ‘The Swarm’. This is a bad idea and friends and strangers alike have no reticence in telling me so.

But in the professional life of a copywriter, voicing our concerns about frankly appalling ideas to one group in particular is nowhere near as straightforward.

That group is of course our clients.

I’ve always found the sneering and scornful attitude take by some marketing creatives to their clients to be a little uncomfortable. Maybe I have just been incredibly fortunate, but I have worked with a great many insightful, imaginative and open-minded clients who have contributed as much to the process as any member of the creative team.

Inevitably, however, I have also encountered narrow-mindedness, paucity of imagination and misguided intentions and ideas. There has surely never been any malice behind any of these obstacles placed before me, but the obstacles were raised nonetheless.

The question then is how do you confront your client’s bad ideas with sensitivity and, more importantly, persuasively enough to force a revaluation in their attitude?

The answer to this should always be with professional, reasoned arguments put across in a frank and certain tone. I appreciate though that is often less simple than writing cheery songs about an impending killer bee attack.

But should we, as copywriters and a wider creative body, allow discretion to get in the way of producing the very best work possible? The answer to this is far simpler, absolutely not.

The shared goal of client and creative alike is always the production of an impactful and persuasive campaign. If creativity wasn’t integral to this result we would all be working as zookeepers (a copywriter’s natural fallback career).

Therefore we are not unreasonable in assuming that our role is to ensure the highest levels of creativity (albeit in relation to a positive commercial outcome) not to pander to feelings, whims or peeves of our clients.

A mutually candid exchange of views between ourselves and our clients can only be of massive benefit to the whole process. The same must surely be said of a more assertive and authoritative approach to our business by creatives.

Oh, and if any of you were wondering the title of my Swarm musical will be ‘Stinging in the Rain’. One day people, one glorious day...

Follow Andrew Boulton on Twitter @Boultini

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. He’s Stinging in the Rain, just Stinging in the Rain.

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