If you’re a seasoned freelance copywriter, you’ve probably experienced this scenario at least once: You work hard on a copy project. You submit perfect, polished work. And then you never hear about the project again—your deliverable disappears into a black hole.
Weeks or months later, you learn your client didn’t use your copy.
Wham! Nothing knocks the wind out of you like rejection.
But hold on.
Yes, it’s possible you missed the mark on the project. Maybe your copy took a wrong turn. Or your client doesn’t feel the work is up to par.
But it’s just as possible your copy went unused for other reasons. Mysterious workings beyond your control.
5 reasons why your copy gets sucked into a black hole
If you take a deep breath, contact your client and ask politely but persistently, you’ll uncover a number of explanations for your copy’s demise.
Your project may have fallen victim to…
- Crowd-sourced copywriting. Some organizations pride themselves on working by consensus: They want their whole team to weigh in on copy. Certain hive-minded clients may even run copy by friends and family. So in addition to the receptionist’s suggestions, you’ll get redlined edits from Uncle Ed. While it’s great to hear constructive feedback, copywriting is not a democratic process. Its effectiveness depends on a single, authoritative voice.
- Multiple sign-offs. Yay, the marketing director loves your copy. No revisions! She’s sending it straight to the design team—right after it’s okayed by the creative director. And the CMO. Then Legal. Warning: The more sign-offs your copy needs, the higher the possibility of rejection—for privacy issues, legal technicalities or personal predilections. Sometimes you can please all parties involved. But sometimes a strong personality refuses to be pleased. And sometimes it’s such a hassle on their end they prefer to let the project die.
- Corporate internal disputes. True story (altered slightly to protect the innocent): Before a creative meeting, a company’s marketing director discreetly pointed out one player to me: “No matter what they say in this meeting, he’s the man you need to please. All the materials should focus on him and his team.” Fine. Over several months the project expanded across platforms. I wrote copy that strongly positioned the executive and his team. But almost a year later the copy still hadn’t gone to print. With prodding, the marketing director finally admitted the project sparked interdepartmental jealousy. To avoid conflict, she killed the copy.
- Change of guard. You just delivered your copy and look forward to seeing it tied up with a pretty design bow. A week later your client still hasn’t sent a link or pdf. No worries, you’re busy with other projects. A few more weeks pass. Finally you come up for air and shoot a message to the client—but the email bounces back. A few phone calls later you learn that your contact at the organization left the company. He’s moved on to another organization. Or—all too common in this economic environment—he’s been laid off or fired. And your project? No one wants to touch it—kind of like the guy who just got canned.
- Hail Mary Marketers. Sometimes you write for clients who don’t know what they want. Well, they know they want a website or direct mail or a brochure. But that’s about all the info they can give you. They throw the copy ball at you and pray for a marketing miracle. Even with multiple revisions and rewrites your copy may fail to please the uncertain Hail Mary Marketer.
How to keep your fee from disappearing along with your copy
While you can’t control your copy’s progress to print or pixelation, you can assure you don’t get stiffed after delivering quality product in good faith.
Before you start work on a project:
Draft an Assignment Sheet or creative brief that describes the project in detail. In addition to preventing misunderstandings, an Assignment Sheet also assures you get paid for the work you create—even when your copy is shelved. Check out 5 simple steps that assure copy payment.
Set revision parameters. I factor two free rounds of revisions into my contract. I stipulate that edits be returned to me within two weeks of final copy delivery and revisions don’t veer directionally from the Assignment Sheet. For late revisions and directional changes, I bill at an hourly rate.
Collect a deposit. Before you start work on a project, collect a deposit. When working with a new client, I wait until I receive the deposit before starting work. With regular clients, I start work when they tell me the “check is in the mail.”
Develop your own theory of relativity.
When your copy gets sucked into a black hole, it’s all too easy to let your pride go with it. Don’t. Keep things in context and remember that, relative to most of your deliverables, the incident is a blip on your professional radar screen. Move on.