Words That Work

city dump 1169628 scaled - No Bullshit Please

No Bullshit Please

Your Customers Are Watching

Copywriting is not always directly linked to sales. But it should always help the brand in some way. If business leaders commission words that are simply an act of self-aggrandisement, they shouldn’t be surprised if the results are disappointing. All the locations in this blog post have been changed for the sake of client confidentiality. 

It’s 10am on a Tuesday in March. An email from an agency in New Zealand lands in my inbox. They’re developing the brand of a property developer based in Manchester, England. Can I help get the tone of voice and brand narrative over the line?

I have a call with the creative director. He shares the work so far. A thorough investigative phase including interviews with the founders; tons of market research; a striking look and feel; and some interesting threads to build on to create sales messages. It all seems positive.

I’ve got this, I think. I quote for the job, get the go ahead from the agency, and crack on. 

It does not go well. 

As a freelance copywriter, joining a job half way in is not easy. In these cases, I’ve found I have to be even better at asking questions and even better at listening to the replies. Unless I’m specifically asked for a rewrite, my task is to develop what’s there already. In this instance, I get it wrong.

I send the first draft and we arrange a feedback call. I’m used to getting feedback, but even the CD’s attempt at a shit sandwich can’t hide his disappointment. The tone is off. The messages are too different from the earlier draft. I’m just not getting it. 

Although feedback and editing are a normal part of the creative process, his concern makes me doubt myself.

I take responsibility. I admit I’m struggling to get a handle on the brief and the brand positioning. I ask more questions and take a fresh look at the source material. I have a nagging feeling that it’s less a problem of execution than of communication and expectation. 

I press the CD for guidance on the written personality. He explains the client wants copy that’s more, well, poetic. 

Red flag.

What clients mean when they ask for ‘poetic’ is worlds apart from my understanding of poetry. 

Writing poetry is bloody hard. It’s about imbuing the fewest possible words with the maximum amount of meaning. 

‘Poetic’ marketing copy is, usually, just bullshit. Fluffy nonsense with no precision or clarity. 

I can’t in good conscience write nonsense for money. 

Despite the alarm bells going off in my head, I don’t want to admit defeat. Perhaps we can salvage this, I think.

Of course, writing about design is hard. Not as hard as writing poetry, but still tricky. If you’re not careful you can quickly disappear down a conceptual rabbit hole and end up in a pile of poop. Like those blurbs at the entrance to art exhibitions. Hifalutin gibberish.

I can do this in my sleep

I grit my teeth and get back to it. Come on Olly. Writing copy for a property developer is not like writing the Iliad. 

Evoke place. Conjure mood. Make a connection with the reader. These are things I can do.

All the while, I’m trying to keep my feet on the floor. To make sure that any charming turn of phrase is always a means to achieving reader interest and understanding.

I finish the second draft. Real progress, I feel. I email the agency.

Let’s have a call, says the CD. 

Uh oh.

Despite redoubling my efforts to meet the brief, the copy is not moving in the right direction. He struggles to articulate exactly why but by this point I know. 

The client wants fluff. The agency is committed to delivering fluff. 

The problem is, I don’t write fluff. 

In other words, I’m the wrong writer for the job.

We agree to part ways.

I’m disappointed. I wonder what I did wrong. 

In the end, it’s no one’s fault. 

Some clients and creatives just aren’t a good match. 

Thank god I have this blog for therapy. 

I gaze out over the misty garden and wonder why so many business leaders are attracted to fluffy copy. I decide it’s because they are thinking more about themselves than their customers. They splash treasure on a fancy office but leave the store unstocked.

The rewards of fluffy copy are fleeting. You might beguile the reader temporarily, but it’s a hollow kind of sorcery. Lick away the froth and there’s no coffee underneath. No substance. No meaning. A linguistic sleight of hand that leaves the reader titillated then deflated. Like a drunken fumble in a car park.

On the other hand, punchy, reader-focused copy is worth many times what it costs. Nail your message and you will attract more customers.

Yeah. Keep fighting the good fight, Olly. Rejuvenated, I crack on with my other projects.

You wait for a bus

Several months roll by.

It’s 3pm on a Thursday. An email pops up. It’s a high-end fashion brand. We arrange a call.

‘We’ve got the building blocks of a brand story,’ they tell me from their atelier in Paris. ‘We just need it to be more…poetic.’


Looking at the word soup in the presentation on screen I know we’re never going to see eye to eye. I’ve learned my lesson. I explain that I don’t think I’m a good fit. We wind up the meeting with no blood spilt. 

Hire this creative copywriter and I’ll work hard to nail the brief and get results. But I’m not really writing for you, I’m writing for your customers. And I don’t do bullshit. 

Need an anti-bullshit, pro-clarity copywriter? Get in touch for a strategy session.