Tips From A Client To A Copywriter

I came across this post called Ten Tips From A Copywriter To A Client and just had to respond. I’ll reprint the blogger’s (copywriter’s) tips in italics [with some editing for the sake of space] followed by my (the client’s) comment/reply.

1. Please read a book and watch a good movie from time to time. No matter how busy you are, you can still make time for such a thing. [Y]ou SHOULD know who is David Lynch and what type of music Beastie Boys make.

OK. And in return, please put someone on my account who has read a book written before 1975 and who knows the difference between Fergie from the Blackeyed Peas and Fergie the Duchess of York.

2. You have no right to tell me HOW to write a headline and WHAT WORD I should use as long as you’re incapable of writing a correct phrase in your native language.

As long as I’m the one paying, I’ll tell you what I want to tell you. But if you think I’m wrong, then tactfully and factually tell me why you think I’m wrong. Tell me why you would suggest using a different word and why the word I’m suggesting “might” not be the most effective one to use.

3. If you already have a headline that you know you’ll use no matter if it’s shitty or not, just go ahead and tell that to the agency. No need for the copywriter to come up with hundreds of headlines that you know you’re gonna turn down.

Please re-read the reply to tip #2.

4. Please don’t write a brief with specific instructions on what image to use, where to use it, what the text is and exactly how the ad should look. You’re talking to an ad agency not a production shop. You do your job, let us do ours.

My “job” is to be accountable for results. If you view your “job” as simply writing headlines and copy, then we have a problem. I’ll repeat: If you don’t like what I’m telling you, then tactfully and factually tell me why you think I’m wrong and why you would suggest a different course of action.

5. If you’re not sure that you’ll actually do an ad then please don’t waste the agency’s time by making them do a final version just so you can say: “Yeah, it’s very good, but we’re not gonna do anything.”

On behalf of my firm, and others like it, let me apologize to you. Shit happens (usually political shit). Budgets come and budgets go. Plans — even those supposedly set in stone — change. I’m not intentionally jerking your chain.

6. When you kill an idea, kill it with arguments. Even if you don’t have any arguments just pretend that you have and make something up.

Make something up just to make you feel better about it? My trusted relationships aren’t built on lies designed to assuage each other’s egos. I’ve been in my business for a long time — I have strongly developed opinions and theories about what works and what doesn’t. But sometimes, those opinions and theories are so deeply ingrained, I’m not even aware of them. Ask smart questions to help me elaborate on them and uncover the arguments I have — but might not have related to you — for killing an idea.

7. Never fire an agency without any reasons. Word tends to get around and you’ll soon end up working with the lowest of the low since all the other agencies will refuse your account.


8. Treat the agency exactly as you want to be treated by it. An agency is a client’s partner, not a client’s slave. I’ll repeat that one: AGENCY = PARTNER.

Get real. I’m paying you for your work, while I take all the responsibility and accountability for the ROI. You’re not a partner — you share NONE of the risk. The smart agencies know this. (And by the way — take my firm’s logo off that slide you have in your new client pitches that lists me as one of your “partners”).

9. Never ask the agency to do an ad exactly like the one you saw done by some other agency for some other client. That’s not the agency’s job. It’s offensive even to think that an agency will copy some other agency’s work just to get your account.

Please understand that when I ask you to do that, that I’m giving you a clue to what I want. And again, if you think I need something different, then tactfully and factually tell me why you think I’m wrong.

10. The last tip is this: LISTEN. Listen to what the agency has to say. It’s our job to make great ads for you, ads that work, ads that sell, ads that awe. So listen to what we have to say. Trust us. We know what works and what doesn’t.

Nobody knows what works and what doesn’t. Your experience has helped you form opinions about what works and what doesn’t — and unless you give me rational, factual, and mature arguments for why you think I should be doing something differently, then you haven’t earned the right to be listened to.

I listen to the firms that earn the right to be my trusted advisors. I’ll listen to you when you demonstrate that you understand my business, understand my issues, and go above and beyond the letter of our contract to help me manage, grow, and improve my business. Your tips from a copywriter to a client showed none of the traits I’m looking for in a trusted advisor.

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[Note: Thanks to Adelino for his help with this]


8 thoughts on “Tips From A Client To A Copywriter

  1. Hello. Thank you for taking your time and writing an answer. I would like to state some things:

    1. my tips are in no way addressed to all the clients in the world. just those that do the things I don’t like. So of course a client should expect that the creatives themselves have a solid cultural background. We agree on that one.

    2. I’m sorry if I was maybe a little unclear on that. I was using “tell me” as in “make me do it regardless of arguments”.

    3. Here I can’t agree. You’re not hiring monkeys to do your whims.

    4. Again, probably my mistake. Here’s an example of what I was saying: “Client: Hey x, you’ll make me an ad with the headline “Run in circles ’till you drop”, using only the colour blue and showing two drunken zebras dancing on the street. We’re selling vacuum cleaners and this will surely sell. We don’t want to hear what you have to say”

    6. Not to make me feel better, but to not look like an inconsiderate fool. You want to have a good relationship with your agency. You won’t have that with: “This idea is crap because this morning I had a bad cup of coffe.” Even if that’s why you kill it, it’s better to say some generic bullshit rather than nothing.

    8. Creatives are not in it for the money. We don’t care that you pay us. We’re not whores.

    9. I agree. I wasn’t talking about clues given by the client, those are appreciated. I’m talking about making the agency do exactly the same ad you saw done in another country even if you don’t have it licensed. That’s stealing.

    10. You might be right. I was just trying to make the point clear: the client and the agency should listen to one another.

    Again, let me restate that those tips are for the worst clients an agency could ever have. When the client and the agency are communicating as they should then there aren’t any problems that can’t be solved or worked out.

  2. You know what, Glenn — you’re absolutely right. When I first read this guy’s post, by the time I got to #10, I was pissed off at him. There was an entitlement, know-it-all attitude that I was reading into his post (apologies to Eugens if I was wrong).

    It’s a style kind of thing — the reality of marketing (ok, MY perceived reality) is that things are still far from a science. Coming into my office and TELLING me that you KNOW what works and what doesn’t diminishes your credibility in my eyes. Come into my office, tell me what you THINK works and what doesn’t and tell me WHY you think that way… and I’m a lot more receptive to listening.

  3. I might have unintentionally given the wrong impression. I wasn’t talking about all clients, I wasn’t saying that all clients are like that. I was talking about the worst kind of clients, those that can’t understand and won’t understand you, those that don’t want to communicate, they just want to boss around, those that are illiterate and unappreciative etc. I was wrong at the “we know what works” part only because I wasn’t able to make it clear. It should have been “we know what might work, if you’ll just listen to what we have to say”. Did I make myself clearer this time?

    I don’t have a know-it-all attitude, far from it. I believe that we learn stuff right until the very last minutes of our lives. Nobody can know everything about anything.

  4. I agree with most points here – number 8 however appears way off the mark for two reasons. Firstly both parties are in a relationship and should be treated fairly. Agencies are in the main paid according to performance – at least indirectly but increasingly directly. I think this is a very strong trend which should be encouraged. I’d assume that any agency which talks of clients as partners would have them all on performance related contracts so i accept that those that don’t are being naughty.

    As far as i can see, the best advice on this topic i ever read came from David Ogilvy in his book “confessions of an advertising Man”. He laid it out very well – clients should respect agencies but only when that respect is earnt. Clients have the right to do whatever they think is in their best interests. Agencies should advise clients as they see fit. etc

    For me one thing matters and this is the thing many agencies are afraid off – ROI. If i go into a pitch and an agency wants my client to do something, i ask the question why and what do you expect will happen. The science is important – blue text on green should have some justification – if an agency can’t justify it’s suggestions then get another one.

  5. Thanks for commenting, John — excellent points. While you may be right that “pay for performance” may be increasing, on Stacy Gentile’s site (, he quotes from an upcoming Forrester report that found that 75% of the firms they surveyed don’t even measure agency ROI. This shouldn’t be surprising. A lot happens in between when a consumer views an ad and when he or she lays out some money for the product or service. Robert Rosenthal did a great job laying out the reasons why agencies don’t put “skin in the game” (see the link in the post labeled “smart agencies”). What I was really reacting to in point #8 was Eugens’ assertion that AGENCY=PARTNER. If you really want to turn that into an equation, then I think it would look like this (in Excel):

    AGENCY = IF(Performance=”high” AND TenureOnAccount=”long” AND QualityofPersonnel=”high”,PARTNER,NOT_PARTNER)

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