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The Client Isn't Always Right

When it comes to crafting content, there’s a misconception in agency life that writers are yes men. After all, the client knows best.

And to some extent, the client does know best. They know their brand, their purpose, their goal, and their product like the back of their hand. As an agency, and as writers, of course we want to make our clients happy. We want to help them succeed in every way we can.

But what about the times when the team knows best?

As copywriters, our creative visions get shot down… a lot. We’re encouraged to break the mold and come up with big ideas. Sometimes, those ideas don’t make the cut. Whether it’s in internal brainstorms or client meetings, we know what it’s like to adapt a creative vision because it’s just not there yet.

Which is fine, of course. We’re creatives — it doesn’t hurt our feelings. We understand clients have a vision too, even if it’s just for a specific blog post. We’re happy to rework a piece if necessary.

However, sometimes, we push back.

Writing is a peculiar thing. Most of us (as in the general public) have 12+ years of academic writing experience. We’re taught at a very young age how to express thoughts and meaning through the written word. But what does writing really mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, writing is "the act or process of one who writes: as

a. the act or art of forming visible letters or characters; specifically: handwriting

b. the act or practice of literary or musical composition"

Now, you’d probably be hard pressed to find a copywriter who uses the term “literary composition” when describing their ad copy or latest blog post on activated carbon. But there is an art to it. Just because someone can write, it doesn’t mean they specialize in writing. It doesn’t make them a writer.

Yet people forget this dichotomy because writing is something almost anyone can (physically) do. But when you compare it to, say, a car problem, it starts to make more sense. I can change my oil, but I’m no mechanic. If my car breaks down, you won’t find me telling the mechanic how to fix it. They’re the specialist, after all.

A copywriter is a specialist in content. Writing, in the professional sense, is a skill. More importantly, writing, in the marketing sense, is far more complex than putting words on paper. It takes the ability to strategize, craft a story, be creative, and communicate efficiently, all while keeping the client’s brand expertise in mind.

Why Writers Push Back

Creating content for the sake of creating content is passé. Now, writers spend hours researching industry trends, competitor conversations, and consumer wants and needs in order to create a perfectly tailored content strategy that will help a brand become a thought leader and gain consumer trust. Content is no longer just about promoting a brand and its product. There’s a larger purpose at play.

This is where we find ourselves pushing back the most. It can be difficult for clients to adjust to the fact that content needs to go beyond product and promotional conversations in order to truly be successful. When we push back on client feedback, it’s generally because the client’s request is inconsistent with the approved strategy we’ve set in place. Every piece of ongoing content we create is a strategic decision. So, any change to that content has the potential to affect the strategy. It’s amazing that the addition of one sentence can make a piece go from thought leadership to promotion in the eyes of the consumer, but it’s true.

Of course, there are times we push back on smaller things, like style. Everyone writes differently; even us copywriters have to stop ourselves from editing each other’s work to death just because the writing style is different. So, we keep clients’ style preferences in mind. However, there’s a difference between a style preference and being grammatically correct, or between style preference and being clear — both of which are the ultimate goals in writing content. We want to be sure to communicate clearly and effectively.

The Proper Process

Just as there’s an art to crafting content, there’s an art to pushing back. It’s not about saying “no.” It’s about executing strategy and creating successful content. If you find yourself ready to push back, here are some things to keep in mind:

Determine why you’re pushing back

It might seem like a no-brainer, but there’s a difference between pushing back because something isn’t on strategy and pushing back because you wouldn’t do something that way. Personal preference doesn’t come in to play — at all. It’s your job to be the expert, which means making decisions based on facts, not preference.

Justify your disagreement

You know the saying: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. If the client is asking you to change something, there’s already a “problem.” If you merely disagree, you’re only adding to it. It’s essential that you give a thorough explanation of why you’re pushing back. While your reasoning may seem like common sense to you, it might not be to someone who doesn’t specialize in your role. It’s your job to make the client see the bigger picture. This includes discussing the positive results that accompany your recommendations. If there’s not a tangible outcome, it’s hard to understand why you’re pushing back in the first place.

Present alternative courses of action

If the disagreement still exists, ask yourself this simple question: Is there another way this can be done and still be on strategy and yield positive results? Believe it or not, you may not always see the full picture. Take a step back and see if there are other possible avenues that are on strategy and that the client is more comfortable with.

Know when to throw in the towel

Sometimes, you have to know when to cut your losses. At the end of the day, this is your client’s product/brand/content. They have final say. If a client is dead set on a content change, blog topic, or some other initiative, it’s not always worth the continuous back and forth. Too much push back can create frustration and negativity. It’s up to you to know when it’s time to throw in the towel.

Ultimately, pushing back on client feedback is a delicate process. Sometimes, a client’s expectations and the strategic purpose of a piece don’t align. But it’s a writer’s job to be the expert on content, which means speaking up respectfully when something is incorrect or off strategy. As a writer, you need to keep the client’s interests and expertise in mind, yes. But don’t shy away from standing up for your content. You’re the expert, and it’s up to you to make the content, and the client, successful.

Written by Jack Scullin on July 20, 2015

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Written by
Jack Scullin