Why are agency copywriters so defensive?October 24th, 2013 20 Comments
Back in April, I blogged about my copy deck. I compared the traditional agency copy deck to my wireframe approach, and suggested it’s best to format the copy much as you expect it to appear when live. Like this:
Rather than something like this:
Most freelance copywriters who read my post agreed with me. But a few – particularly agency and ex-agency copywriters – were quite vocal in their disagreement. I’d go so far as to say they were defensive.
The latest defensive comment
Take the most recent comment, for instance:
For small direct clients, you can do what you like.
But the moment that you involve others in the creative process, this formatting approach is simply not appropriate.
The moment you work with an agency, design firm, or digital developer, this format is preempting the role of the designer/art director in the equation. And your format is literally abecedarian (e.g. are headlines always bigger and at the top of the page? No!)
Direct clients are one thing — but if you’re working with other firms, it’s preferable to respect existing formats and templates.
The essential idea is to keep things as neutral as possible. And if you wish to dramatize the idea, then the AD etc. can create a comp to preview your copy in the design.
If you don’t know what a copy deck is, then it’s your responsibility to learn.
BTW: I’ve freelanced for 20 yrs. for a multitude of clients, direct and otherwise. But that’s not why I’m right.
Here’s what I think of that
I agree it’s important to respect the client’s way of doing things. That’s why I always ask if they have a wireframe or design in place already. If they do, I work to it. If they don’t, I ask if they’re happy for me to write the home page in wireframe format. If not, I write their copy in Word.
But even then, I still use formatting. E.g. I make H1s bigger than H2s and add actual bulleted lists. No agency client has ever told me this was confusing (because it’s not), and I’m yet to meet a designer who would even consider basing the aesthetics of their design on my ugly little wireframe. They know it’s just a guide to the prominence of, and relationship between, the information elements on the page.
What’s more, once you try wireframe-copywriting, you realise how constrained you were before. It’s like you suddenly discover you were typing with one hand tied behind your back. Just as copy is a living, breathing thing on the page, so, too, the information elements evolve and adapt to each other in a wireframe. To ensure the best outcome in this evolutionary process, you need someone nudging things in the right direction. Someone who understands BOTH copywriting and user interaction design. In my experience, most agencies just don’t have that someone. So they either:
- Mash the copy and design together – without changing either – for a final result that’s not quite right;
- Change the copy (badly) in-house to match the design; or
- Send the copy back to me to change, resulting in a needlessly drawn-out, iterative revision process, all because they want the cart (design) to lead the horse (copy).
So I disagree, fundamentally, that the essential idea is to keep things as neutral as possible. My responsibility is to convey how all the information should come together to tell a single, cohesive, compelling story. If I were purely a writer of words, that might not be true. But I’m not. Nor are most other copywriters I know.
Far from being inappropriate, I’m (we’re) doing what’s best for the end-client.
What do you think?
Is this defensiveness just a case of ‘who moved my agency cheese’? Have I unknowingly hit an existing raw nerve? Or have I just got it wrong?
Please comment below with your thoughts. I'm not so old a dog that I can't learn a few new tricks!