If I was going there, I wouldn’t be starting from here

One of the agencies I work for occasionally as a freelancer essentially employs me as a copywriter. It pays well for what it is, and it’s good to flex my linguistic muscles now and again to keep that side of my game sharp.

At the same time, though, it can throw into sharp relief the limited ability to create value for a client if your mindset as a communicator is limited to downstream tactical execution – of simply tarting up a fait accompli.

A case in point yesterday…

I was asked to review a document a client had produced, with the aim of accentuating its key points of differentiation from competitors, each point with a set of messages tailored to each of its key stakeholder groups – employees, consumers, clients and suppliers.

Quite apart from specific issues of tone and language, my immediate gut reaction was to question the whole premise of the piece – whether the six points of differentiation highlighted by the client were even relevant in the first place.

Why? Because the client was pushing what it felt to be relevant, with no apparent thought given to what its audiences might actually value. That’s an approach that’s fundamentally flawed in my book and, by definition, incapable of delivering the same impact as one driven by audience insight (NB Marty Neumeier’s line about a brand being what they say it is, not you).

And so to what I suppose is the point at the heart of this post…

When I raised these issues with the agency, who had pencilled in two days of writing for the job, their initial response was, “So what are you saying, Dan? Do you want to do this or not?”

My answer? If all the client really wants is two days of writing to finesse their existing approach, then I’ll happily do that. But

As professional advisors, don’t we have a duty to raise questions first, to challenge assumptions, and to highlight the possibilities of other (potentially better) approaches?

Surely they’ll appreciate that and, if they agree, we’ll work together to scope something different. If, on the other hand, we have that conversation and their views don’t change, then that’s fine too – at least they’ll have made a more informed decision.

(A call with the client was duly scheduled for next week.)


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