7+ Ways to Make Sure You KEEP Your Copy Clients

June 02, 2010  |   Posted by :   |   Copywriting,Corporate Writing,Slideshow   |   Comments Off on 7+ Ways to Make Sure You KEEP Your Copy Clients»

Guest Post by John Forde, Copywriter’s Roundtable.

Writer Insider Note: When I was an in-house corporate writer for the nation’s #1 insurance brokerage, I always liked to get as much ‘outside’ perspective as possible (so that I never became ‘institutionalized’ in my thinking). With that in mind, I’m sharing an article from John Forde, a successful, independent copywriter who specializes in direct response. Whether you currently write inside or outside a corporation, I believe you’ll find his insights invaluable as you seek to improve your own corporate writing.

So here’s John’s article:

“It is wise, to apply the oil of refined politeness to the mechanisms of friendship.”

–Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

It’s with double-heaping-helping of irony that I serve up this week’s issue for you. How so?

First of all, because I’m about to tell you to do something that I don’t always succeed in doing myself… unfortunately.

In fact, a lot of people who I’ve worked with and, hopefully, have made friends with over the years might read this and recognize that very fact.

Second of all, because what I’m going to recommend is the very opposite of what you’re going to THINK you should do, at exactly the moment when following the advice below will serve you best.

Okay, enough with the warm-up.

Let’s get to it, shall we?


Way back in the long-off era of 2002, the psychology department of Texas U. did a study.

What they were looking for was a link between emotional and psychological health and writing unrestrained, impassioned emails.

They found one.

Students who wrote about their feelings frankly, said the study, reported fewer sick days and were less likely to miss class because of illness.

One of the psychologists told the U.K. Telegraph that it was a great way to both gain self-clarity and reduce internalized stress.

But is writing ’emotionally honest’ e-mails to your friends and family — or your clients — really such a good idea?

With all due respect to our pals at Texas U., I’m going to say…no it’s not. And especially when we’re talking in a professional capacity.

And believe me, I speak from experience.

As someone who also writes for a living (or aspires too), maybe you can see where I’m coming from, too.

It’s no secret to marketing directors, graphic designers, and spouses everywhere –writers tend to be a volatile bunch. We’re curious and we care about ideas, which is an advantage. But it’s also a source of some of our worst traits, at least for some of us.

No, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing novels or sales letters. I’ve tried to be both (and succeeded at one), and I can tell you — just entertaining the psyche of a writer makes me impatient with lack of detail, less tolerant of dissent, argumentative, anti-social and worse.

It’s a wonder I can get a dentist appointment, let alone a wife, kids, and invitations to family dinners.

But here’s the thing…

Despite what the good folks at Texas U. recommend, I’m going to make a different suggestion: if you’ve got something to vent, better to get a punching bag.

And leave it out of the email. Or you risk losing some of the copywriting clients you care about most.

Fortunately, there are better ways…


Over the years, actually, I’ve found myself on both sides of the copywriter-client exchange.

Have I written my share of crotchety emails to product managers, traffic managers, legal assistants, publishers, and graphic designers?

I confess — I have.

A tiny handful have even made it past the “send” button…most, after sitting in my “draft” folder to cool, have landed in the trash can.

But rather than air out my own dirty laundry, let me share some insight from my friend and fellow marketer, Lori Appling.

Lori runs Travel Writing and Travel Photography seminars for our mutual pals over at American Writers & Artists Inc.

She deals with lots of copywriters and other freelancers. So much that she once gave a presentation at the famous AWAI boot camp, “Confessions of a Marketing Director: 17 Ways to Keep Clients Coming Back.”

Here are some of the highlights she shared…

1) Don’t complain or badger the client.

Imagine waking up from surgery only to have the doctor hovering over your bed, complaining about the mess you made in the operating room. You’d feel a bit, er, put out.

Yet, one copywriter Lori hired wrote her a letter complaining about the migraines and sleepless nights… she had “caused” because of the project she’d given him.

Guess what — she never hired him again.

Likewise, it’s not a good idea to badger clients for feedback. Sure, sometimes a response comes way too slow — I know, I’ve been there — but a gentle nudge is better than a searing cattle prod, in the long run. Believe me. I’ve been there too.

Of course, the longer and better you get to know the clients, the easier it is to be frank about what you need to get the job done. But even then, don’t mistake familiarity for a license to act like a jerk (Believe me, I’ve been… ah, you get the picture).

2) Offer to help not to destroy.

If your marketing client has a mailing control you think stinks, what should you do? Write them, of course, and tell them what idiots they are… right?


Yet, Lori has letters from copywriters who say exactly that. Out right, they try to get new business by telling her that their layout stinks… the headline is insipid… and so on.

Is that the way your mama taught you to behave? Nope.

And you shouldn’t behave that way with a client you hope to keep or win over, either.

One of the great things you learn as a seasoned writer is how to TAKE criticism…and if you’re lucky, you learn how to GIVE a critique better too.

That means knowing when your critique is welcome and when it isn’t. It also means knowing how to make suggestions that get your clients looking forward hopefully… rather than feeling defensive.

3) Emphasize past successes, not failings.

How many poor chumps have you seen trying to “get the girl,” only to lapse hopelessly into awkward self- deprecation? Bottom line: you can’t go far by hiding your light under a bushel.

Talking to a new client? Then let them know what you’ve accomplished. If you’ve got great controls for one company, get samples and share them with the rest of your clients. There’s no need to be modest.

Talking to a longtime client? Don’t forget that the quality of your business relationship is built on reselling yourself to them, too. With discretion, make sure they don’t forget your greatest hits.

What if you lack experience? Don’t cringe in the shadow of your own innocence. Instead, be bold, eager, and well-informed. Be honest. And shine the light on what you’re GOING to do for them instead.

4) Know when to call instead of write.

Like I implied earlier, writing is often an isolated profession. You start to cherish working alone, and might even start using e-mail as your buffer against a disruptive world.

True, email can save you lots of time… sometimes.

But here’s the real weakness of working solely by e-mail:  It can make you think you control the conversation, when you really don’t.

That’s a problem.

Especially when you’ve got a complex idea to get across… an opinion that could be misread… or a sensitive question to ask.

There’s no way around it — you have to know when to pick up the call instead of write. Better yet, know when it’s best to meet in person. I know, that whole”face-to-face” thing seems like old technology. But you’ll be surprised by how much better it works, compared to, for example, brainstorming by Twitter.

5) Always include your contact information.

Okay, this isn’t about e-mail etiquette exactly.

Except in the sense that it’s always right to make your introductions. Obvious?  Perhaps.

But Lori showed us an e-mail from one copywriter that would astound any self-respecting schoolmarm.

He asked her to mail something to him via the postal service… at a new mailing address he didn’t provide… while writing from an e-mail address he said he didn’t usually use. And he signed the message only “J.” And that was it.

Nice going, bonehead.

6) Understand the technical side of the business.

This isn’t so much etiquette either. But it pays, says Lori, to know enough about the print side of the direct mail business. Just so you can talk the talk when necessary. This is especially true when working with graphic designers. Nothing will help you sound more like a seasoned marketer. By the way, this is also true when you’re working with online copy. You don’t need to know HTML, but it helps to know the technical options afforded to you.

7) Get excited about the product.

Again, not an etiquette point. But essential for every communication you’ll have with a copywriting client. If there’s anything that will really make your copy work well and your clients willing to respect you, it’s a sincere understanding and appreciation of the product you’re writing to support. The enthusiasm flows from between the lines.

And this will make your writing job much easier, to boot.

In the title to today’s piece, I said “+” after the “seven.” What’s that stand for? Well, naturally, the easiest way to keep a client is to write great copy that sells.

But that’s way too obvious, right?

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