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The one copywriting client you need to run away from

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.

Logan Ingalls

If I were to build a copywriting robot, I’m not sure what I’d programme into it beyond a basic understudying of apostrophes – and a wildly disproportionate ratio between how much tea it drinks and how much it makes.

(Of course, this is all hypothetical as I only own one type of screwdriver and, inexplicably, that’s covered in Nutella.)

What I absolutely wouldn’t put into my copy-bot however is the sensitivity, self-righteousness, conceit and all round alphabetical prickliness that exists in many of our kind. By which I mean, in me.

But, ever making excuses, I do believe that copywriting is one of those complicated and contrary transactions in which objective expertise passes through an approval process sodden with bias and caprice.

That’s why copywriting is as much an exercise in persuasion and evidence as it is one of imagination and expression. It’s also about recognising the point at which your interest in a project crosses the line from championing the most effective response to grumblingly delivering the requested solution.

All too many copywriting briefs experience the full five stages of alphabetical grief – excitement, compromise, despair, acceptance, pay. But that, as anyone with ink in their heart will know, is the way things have always been.

But while a client who sees things differently to us is to be expected – and can actually help drive the work to a more potent conclusion – there is one type of client I would suggest is not worth your effort.

This type of client is the one that wants to write it themselves anyway.

They are not always easy to spot at first, like a crocodile bobbing along amongst the logs. But, from the very second you present your first draft you will realise that your only role here is to provide a sacrifice to their greedy red pen.

This kind of relationship can be wildly frustrating – much like a surgeon trying to operate on an inflamed appendix while the patient fishes about in their own innards with an ice lolly stick.

But, while fury and scorn are understandable reactions, the simple truth is that this is a job you should walk politely away from. This isn’t about the quality of your work, nor does it reflect on your professional credibility. It’s merely about someone who cannot concede their ownership of either the problem or the solution.

It’s important to remember though very little great work is produced without a great client. I work with clients who will tear my copy to pieces – not as an act of misplaced vanity or mistrust, but to share knowledge that will make the copy work far harder.

And no copywriter is too lofty to be corrected by someone who knows the things we don’t.

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