The Ethics of Copywriting: Writing with Respect

By: Laurence James

A marketing director from a large creative agency once told me, ‘Always concentrate on producing great work, and never let the client interfere with the creative process. Clients come to you for guidance on each project, so you should be prescriptive about the work you give them. The day you start to care about their input - is the day you should get out of the business'. Astonishing isn't it, and I completely disagree.

The agency in question, (which will forever remain nameless), had won sack loads of awards for its creativity. No doubt everyone who worked there was very smug and felt extremely pleased with themselves – but what did their clients really think about the service they received? Were they happy with it? Was the effectiveness of client campaigns ever measured or followed up on? I wonder.

In my view, all work you complete as a freelance copywriter or creative professional should start from the perspective of respecting your clients. You should listen to the individual needs of each client and understand how their company works. Equally, you should attempt to get to know your key contacts as real people – not merely ‘consumers' of your creative genius.

If you start each project from this platform of respect, the client will love your work and the respect will be mutual. They will appreciate your personal service and your willingness to understand their company ethos, and you may even come to be viewed as part of their team - which is great for repeat business.

Further to this, when you write copy that respects your clients, and their customers too, this is reflected in the believable tone of your writing. Your target audience is never stupid, and they will always read between the lines of what you're directly saying. So, if you're insincere or take them for granted – this will be reflected in poor sales. If you're respectful and honest, your readers will instantly find you credible and authoritative – and will be more inclined to trust and buy from you.

It's also important to follow up on each project to build on this relationship of mutual respect with the client. Monitor the results of a direct mail campaign or check the response rates from a sales letter you've written. Go back and ask the client how your copy or creative is working out for them – offer to tweak a headline here or a paragraph there to make them happy. You'll be rewarded with great testimonials and more business in future.

Ultimately, respecting both clients and readers will stand you in good stead for your future career as a copywriter or creative professional. It may sound obvious, but it's relatively easy to develop a bit of an ego and start taking things for granted - especially when the money starts rolling in. In the long run, you may not win a sack load of awards for your work, but you will win a sack load of respect and fantastic feedback. You'll also have the satisfaction of knowing you did a good job and genuinely helped your client's business. That always feels great – because at the end of the day, it's not all about the money and industry acclaim. In the end, a truly great copywriter or creative professional is always recognisable by their long list of satisfied clients.

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