Respect What the Copywriter Is Doing

In quite a few of my layout jobs, I don’t have direct contact with the copywriter. I’m brought in by the client after he has signed off with the copywriter, and I end up working with the client if there are any issues with the copy.

Some clients prefer this approach, because they want to be the sole contact between the copywriter and designer. They’re concerned that if they’re not the go-between, the copywriter and designer may make changes and forget to tell them. Ultimately, it’s the client holding the bag when it comes to the success or failure of the promotion, so this is a reasonable attitude.

However, the practice of isolating the designer and copywriter from each other is not always the best practice.

Here’s what master DM designer Lori Haller has to say about these two halves of the DM process working cooperatively with each other:

“Designers and copywriters have a better chance of having a successful package by working collaboratively with each other. I’ve found designers are eager to work with copywriters, but they don’t always know exactly how to work with either the copy or the copywriter. And copywriters don’t always understand how designers translate their ideas into a visual product.” – Lori Haller

I strongly encourage my clients to bounce last-minute design ideas or changes off the copywriter, even if his work is complete. Doing this ensures that you respect the copywriter’s vision for the package … a vision based on his expertise in direct marketing.

Let me give you two examples where I feel the copywriter should have been involved – even though he was “finished” with the project.

  1. How One Word Might Have Made a Difference

    I was working on the layout of a newspaper ad. It had a bold, one-word headline at the top. The client suggested that we include a photo at the top of the ad illustrating that single word.

    I found a great photo, but it included the same word. I worried that having the photo next to the one-word headline was redundant.

    Since we’d be tampering with the copywriter’s vision of the ad, I felt strongly that we should get his opinion. Great copywriters don’t throw in extra words without having a reason.

    And, justified or not, if an ad bombs, it’s usually the copywriter who takes the hit.

    So, to honor his vision and expertise, I asked the client to find out if the copywriter preferred the ad with or without the photo.

    But the client didn’t do it … and we lost the opportunity to make an improvement that could very well have elevated the ad’s response rate.

  2. Envelope Copy … or Not?

    A client decided he needed envelope copy for a sales letter after the letter had been written. Again, I suggested getting the copywriter involved. I thought we should know how she felt about envelope copy vs. no envelope copy for this particular promotion. And if she felt that envelope copy was the way to go, I thought we should get her recommendation for what the copy should be. . After all, if the envelope isn’t doing its job in getting the recipient to open it, the sales letter won’t get read. And then we’re back to the copywriter getting blamed for a failed promotion.

    I told the client what I knew about the pros and cons of envelope copy and, based on that, he made the decision to go ahead with some copy he came up with without her. As a result, we’ll never know if she had a vision for stronger, more successful copy than we ended up with.

The lesson to take from all this: Respect the copywriter. If changes are being made that take the design of a promotion in a direction that wasn’t originally planned, talk to your client about getting the writer involved.

Here, again, is Lori Haller on the subject of collaboration:

Every one of your promotions will be stronger and more successful … and your business as a freelancer will be more profitable … if you work cooperatively, courteously, and respectfully with all the members of the project team. – Lori Haller

[Ed. Note: DM graphic designer and GDS Member Mike Klassen adapted this article from his popular blog at http://mikeklassen.blogspot.com. Mike’s blog is a potpourri of design ideas, success secrets, and just good conversation.]

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Published: October 4, 2007

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