When Being Right is Wrong

The client is always right! Even when he’s wrong.

This new slant on the old cliché is crucial to your copywriting success. I decided to write about this after fielding the following question from one of our Circle of Success members …

“I created a headline and a sub-headline for a press release I’m writing for my current client. They recommend not using the sub-headline, but I see other press releases with them on the site we’re going to send the press release to.

I know the sub-headline provides more interest than using a headline that just tells people that another book exists in the universe. Should I stand by my guns and insist we keep the sub-headline?”

This question touches on a situation every copywriter has to face. What do you do when you know your client is wrong, and you’re right?

The answer really depends on how long you’ve worked with this client and your relationship with them. But the starting point has to be what I said at the very beginning of this article.

Success isn’t about being right …

Go into all interactions with your client knowing that the client is right … even when he’s wrong. If it’s a good client, you want to work for them on a regular basis. You don’t want to get into an argument with them over something they’ve directed you to do. Doing that lessens your chances of being hired again. Significantly lessens those chances.

But the keyword here is “argument.” You can disagree with your clients. In fact, if you’re going to be a valuable resource to them, you’re obligated to let them know when you do disagree with them.

It’s how you do it that’s important. Let me use an example from my own career.

I had a client once who had me write long, medium, and short versions of web copy for one of their products. They had a good number of reports in their vault that would have made great premiums to boost response.

However, the CEO who was managing my copy didn’t want to offer premiums. I explained how premiums boost response, sometimes significantly. I gave him data to support my suggestion. His response was he wanted to compare how the different versions performed without the premiums to evaluate the copy itself.

After heaving a sigh he couldn’t hear and pulling my hair out, I agreed to write the copy the way he wanted … no premium.

A surprising result …

All three versions did “pretty well” … but not great. While the long copy did best, it wasn’t a clear winner.

The CEO came back to me a week after they’d posted the last test version and suggested adding the premiums. With the premiums the long copy did gangbusters!

This client was courteous enough to say something like, “You were right.” But that didn’t matter to me. I’d made them a return client. (By the way, I didn’t charge for the revised copy, although he offered to pay.)

And, when he was looking for someone to write prospecting letters to wealthy donors for a micro-credit nonprofit he’d formed, who did he ask?

This was only my second fundraising project. He had no idea when he asked that I was changing my niche. He asked me not because I wrote good copy. He asked because I was easy to work with.

I doubt I would have had this very fulfilling job if I’d insisted I was right about the premiums.

It’ll happen to you, too, many times …

This isn’t the only time I’ve been in this situation … and it won’t be the last. The results haven’t always been as good as this one. I’ve had clients who stuck by their guns in what they wanted. Sometimes they were right. Most often … well, the copy didn’t do as well as it could have. Their loss.

As you go through your career, you’ll be faced with similar situations where your client is clearly wrong. Here’s your strategy when working with that client …

  • Listen politely to your client when he first makes the suggestion.
  • When he’s done, say something like, “That’s a good idea. Give me a couple of days so I can see how it will affect my copy.”
  • Research his suggestion. This gives you time to gain perspective on his suggestion. Maybe he isn’t as wrong as you thought in the beginning. If he still is clearly wrong, taking this time gives you the opportunity to figure how you’re going to respond.
  • When you get back with the client, say something like, “I really like your suggestion. But have you considered doing X instead? Here’s why I think that might work better.”
  • Listen politely to his response and remember that the client is always right.

There’s one crucial exception to the maxim that the client is always right. If your client is asking you to do something illegal, of questionable ethics, or that goes against your deeply held beliefs … your client is wrong. But don’t argue with them. Say, “Thank you, but I think you need to find another copywriter.”

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Published: August 4, 2014

2 Responses to “When Being Right is Wrong”

  1. Mr. Newman, great letter and outstanding advice. As an architect of 30 plus years, you run into this all the time. The patience to allow them to go through their process is the key. Not easy though.

    Thanks so much. Richard

    Richard DenzerNovember 15, 2014 at 12:03 pm


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