I’m an idiot.
I’ve had my suspicions for a long time.
But now I know for sure.
You’re probably an idiot too.
Sorry. It’s just the way it goes with us copywriters.
Yes, I’m suggesting most of us copywriters are idiots.
“Hold on, Glenn. Not so fast. Don’t you know I’ve got a top level IQ and I always win the local pub’s quiz night?”
Yep. Yep. I know all that, but if you’re a copywriter, you’re probably still an idiot.
Well, let me ask you a question:
Once you’ve finished slaving away over your extremely artful copy and you’ve poured weeks and weeks of blood, sweat and tears into it…
Once you’ve been through deep, philosophical arguments with the editor or client you’re writing said copy for and you’ve finally brought your visions into line…
And once you’ve visited various art galleries on a mission to figure out the best way to present your frankly excellent words with the designer…
Do you sneer when you then get comments back from the legal department?
Sure you do. It’s natural.
Despite the very existence of said department being there to protect you… as a copywriter you’ve probably been fundamentally designed to react defensively to ALL suggestions of ‘compliance’ with vague rules some liberty-restricting quango have seemingly plucked out of thin air.
Of course you sneer.
But you know what I’m going to say…
WOAH THERE, NELLY! Before we get to that…
I wonder if you’d like to get hold of a simple guide I’ve put together that outlines my own copy training methods?
Hey, you might be above that kind of help – and that’s fine.
But of course there’s a chance one little idea lurks in this guide you’ve not thought about for ages and it could be this one little idea helps you write a piece of copy that performs better than you expected and earns you more money and industry plaudits. Maybe. Maybe not.
But it’s worth a look, right?
Turn every challenge into an opportunity to strengthen your copy
It reminds me of a song that doesn’t exist from Jay-Z’s little-known direct-response-copy-themed record that also doesn’t exist. I think I remember it not being called: Hit Me Up For A Discount.
“If you’re having legal problems,
I feel bad for you son.
I’ve got 99 problems,
But a promotion stuck in legal aint one.”
Because this song doesn’t exist, we have no way of knowing what Jay-Z actually meant by it…
But I like to think he wrote this verse after learning a deep lesson about copy and how to use the legal process to make your copy stronger.
I’ve been in this game for more than a decade now, but I’m still learning this lesson myself.
It’s why I’m an idiot. I wish I’d learnt sooner.
But here’s the deal…
When the legal process hits your copy… and someone feels your copy isn’t as strong as it should be… do two things…
First, let off steam.
As a copywriter, like I say, you’re pretty much designed to get angry when someone tells you to change your copy. I don’t want you to lose that instinct. It’s valuable and will help you write better copy. Just make sure you let off steam and shout in a different room to everyone else.
Second, coldly analyse the suggested change and ask why it’s being suggested.
Most legal changes will be down to a lack of proof. Even if it’s a seemingly ‘tonal’ change, this is probably down to lack of proof. You see, you should be able to be as excited and aggressive as you like about something you’re selling… IF you’ve got enough proof. So think in those terms and don’t sweat over semantics and stuff (at least not to begin with).
Now you’re thinking in terms of proof and not wording, you’ll probably notice you either haven’t got enough proof to back up what you were saying, or how you were saying it… or you DO have the proof, but you’ve not presented it in the right way.
This is good news either way.
It means you’ve either stopped yourself sending out a dud promotion that hasn’t got enough proof in it and you can go and find some more to bolster your argument…
Or, you’ve identified a section in your promotion that isn’t getting your message across correctly and you can fix it.
It’s better for the customer
As I say, most legal changes will be proof issues, even if they don’t appear to be on the surface.
But some will be technical…
Don’t beat yourself up, it’s the nature of copywriting that you’ll sometimes forget technical stuff.
Again, though, despite all your natural training to rally against ANY legal change to your copy…
Stop and think about why the legal team are suggesting it, because it’s likely going to help strengthen your copy.
A recent example…
I wrote a pretty simple piece of offer-based copy. Nothing too mad and it was very heavily influenced by editorial.
So, when it came to checking it off through the legal process – it was pretty straightforward.
Except one detail… talking about the refund provision.
A completely technical thing, sure. And as far as the copy was concerned, it wasn’t going to have a big effect either way.
As the copy was offer-led, I wasn’t too sure it made much sense to talk about a refund period right after the offer I’d written. But legal wanted it in.
I kept thinking about this. As I say, I’m an idiot and I tend to think about things for much too long.
The legal team suggested it because they wanted it to be clear to the customer there was a refund provision.
I wanted to avoid it, because they suggested it go too near an offer section that I’d constructed in a very specific way and changing it would screw up the flow and make it less clear to the reader.
Ironically, both ‘sides’, so to speak, had the same motive… to make sure the message was clear to the customer.
So, realising the shared motive and understanding it would make things clearer to the customer, I was able to write in the suggestion at a different, more appropriate section of the promotion.
Indeed, the promotion was soon approved, designed and tested. It performed well and everyone was happy – the copywriter, the legal team and, most importantly, the customer.
So, next time you’re lamenting anyone changing your copy, remember to do two things…
1. Let off steam in a quite room.
2. Coldly analyse the suggested change and ask why it’s being suggested.
Do that and just like Jay-Z, you’ll only have 99 problems left to fix.
Wait… 99 other problems doesn’t sound good?
Ah well, we’ll sort those another time.