It’s rare: After twenty years as a New York marketing copywriter, I don’t often get asked for freebie copy.
Even in these tough times, my regular clients, bless them, respect professional parameters. I guess newer clients understand—maybe by seeing my client list or my copywriting work—that I write for love and money.
But a few weeks ago, a prospective employer, someone to whom I’d applied for a copywriting job, asked me for “try-out” writing samples. You know, spec copy. A lot of it.
Copywriters aren’t volunteers. Unless they choose to be.
Before I tell you the story, keep in mind I’m not wholly opposed to donating copywriting services. Under certain circumstances, it makes sense to write for free. Say, for your favorite, cash-strapped NGO or the start-up of a good friend or relative.
But the prospective employer mentioned above, owns a very for-profit chain of stores.
Her request for multiple writing samples annoyed me for both its blithe sense of entitlement and lack of common courtesy: She didn’t even address her email with a salutation.
Am I too sensitive? I leave it to you to decide. Below, I’ve reprinted her email to me—and my response to it.
Please note: I changed a few identifying details, including the company name (but yes, it starts with a lower case letter.) With the exception of these tweeks, the following email is pasted in verbatim.
A modest proposal for free copywriting?
The company rep wrote:
Thank you for your interest in snicker and the copywriter role. If you could, please send me the following:
- Using the construct of the current snicker.com homepage as a template, develop sample copy utilizing products on the website. While the selection of products is not important, a wide variety of product types should be included. Sample will be reviewed based on tone, voice, adherence to structure, and ability to demonstrate snicker authority where applicable.
- Finally, using a Kaboodle Kit from our website, develop a “tips checklist” using that content but translating to a new format while maintaining voice.
- Similarly, develop sample copy for an email using the construct of one of our snicker email templates. Using products selected from snicker.com at your choice, please use the construct below to develop a sample email. You DO NOT have to put the copy into a layout. Simply respond with your email copy in the following format:
Header: Blah, blah, blah
Sub-head: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,
Promo spot #1: Blah, blah, blah, etc.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
Thank you for your interest in my copywriting work. I’m taking you up on your kind offer and reaching out to you at snicker for help composing the War-and-Peace length writing samples you requested.
I wonder if you could please assist me with the following:
- Free products from snicker stores. I’d like to drop into your brick-and-mortar stores and select a wide variety of products from your shelves. I’ll try out—and keep—the products, reviewing them for design, utility, beauty and durability.
- Complimentary shopping spree on your online ecommerce site. Please forward a code that will allow me to shop for free at snicker.com. After vetting your products, I’ll create a “checklist” to see if they meet my esthetic and utilitarian standards.
- Develop new products just for me. Surprise me with your creativity and innovation! You DO NOT have to send packages via overnight air. Simply respond with three-day delivery.
My dear Ms. X, I’m confident you won’t find my request inappropriate or unprofessional. Because you made the same request of me.
Without so much as addressing me with a salutation, mentioning the many writing samples I sent you or hinting at my prospects of working with snicker, you asked me to write an astonishing amount of valuable copy. For free.
But I don’t give away my products—my copywriting services—any more than you do.
Very occasionally I put hand to keyboard for free. I wrote a blog post about this rarity. You can check it out over at BlogHer—where they paid me to publish the post.
After you read my post, I think you’ll see why snicker’s hiring process doesn’t qualify as an instance in which I write gratis. In your case, I take the position championed by Harlan Ellison. Pay the Writer.