What do you do when you fail?

9 replies
I was reading the E. Schwartz lecture referenced in another
thread and came across, "A very good copywriter is going
to fail. If the guy doesn't fail he's no good".

So to experienced copywriters, what do you do when your
copy fails for a client?
#copy writing #fail
  • Profile picture of the author sethczerepak
    Originally Posted by IDoTheLegWork View Post

    I was reading the E. Schwartz lecture referenced in another
    thread and came across, "A very good copywriter is going
    to fail. If the guy doesn't fail he's no good".

    So to experienced copywriters, what do you do when your
    copy fails for a client?
    I believe the smartest thing to do is find out why, agree to give the project another shot and do your best to turn it around. But you also have to know when to dig a hole in the ground, shove the work in, say last rights and walk away.

    When that happens, it's also important to learn as much as possible from the experience and do your best not to make the same mistakes.

    During my near 18 marketing and copywriting career, I've probably had two dozen projects that I'd consider failures. Most of them were during my first ten years, and nearly ALL of them were for the same reason:

    I should have never taken the project on in the first place.

    Smart copywriters know when to say no. I took me a LONG time to get that, simply because I believe there's always a way to make something work. Hell, it took me a while to get that in my dating life too (shudders). I believe a lot of high achievers can relate with this. Persistence is noble, but there's a fine line between optimism and denial.

    When you cross over it, failure is the teacher that cracks his whip across your ass and reminds you that some things are just destined to fail because they're not built on the right foundation.

    Case in point, in my experience, the BEST reason to reject a project if when the client doesn't understand their target market and/or doesn't want to understand because they don't think it matters. Even trying to educate such clients is a waste of energy. Taking on the project anyway doesn't seem to provide any useful learning experience either. It's just another opportunity to kick yourself and swear to never step in that dung heap again.

    I'm interested to see how other copywriters respond to this, but I suspect this is a common minefield to step in.

    Good lesson to newbies.
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  • Profile picture of the author iamden
    good answer, sethczerepak. I had a similar experience in my first year
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  • Profile picture of the author Raydal
    As Seth said, the best way to avoid failures to be able to predict it.
    You can often look at a project and see when it's not going to work
    out (at least for you.)

    But if the copy doesn't work out as expected, then simply make changes.
    That's the whole idea of testing and having a CONTROL. Any copy
    was made to be beaten, so you will fail at times.

    Most copywriters agreement/contract does say what is expected if the
    copy doesn't perform, which is to offer a couple rewrites/reviews/adjustments.

    -Ray Edwards
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  • Profile picture of the author gjabiz
    Originally Posted by IDoTheLegWork View Post


    So to experienced copywriters, what do you do when your
    copy fails for a client?
    I think Seth covered the fail forward and gave good advice for when you have a client...try again, as long as money allows.

    There is, however, a different point of view. Not from the Freelance crowd, when a big marketing company hires a freelancer, with experience, they might expect results...IF they have done their job of having the right product at the right time to offer.

    Last research I saw (2007) from a major marketing company, was the idea that 5-6 promotions are NOT going to work, but the one that does pays for the next 14 or so.

    Freelance copywriters which have clients come back to them again and again, of course, produce results. The newer guy gets "blacklisted", and believe it or don't, they do talk to each other (major marketers).

    When a promotion doesn't work, one way to double check it is to run it through an analytical program which takes a look at

    The PROSPECT
    The PRODUCT
    THE PROMOTION
    The MEDIA

    Is the prospect the right person? At the right time? Does the product meet this prospect's expectation and fulfill a desire? Competition?

    Did the promotion fail because of one of the other three things? Or did it not work because it sucked?

    I think if money allows, to give a different promotion a good test, after analyzing the four parts above, and see if it makes a difference...before you bury it, and maybe not forever, maybe it was too early, too late to the market, you might shelve it for the parade of life which comes around about every 7 years.

    Do your homework and research first and then if it fails, try to find out why if you can...if you can't, then move on.

    gjabiz
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  • Profile picture of the author nameless7
    No one is perfect, so once in a while our copies fail. Sometimes it's really our fault and we have to do our best to make it work. But sometimes clients don't know what do they want. So the first scenario is much better because at least you can put every possible effort to bring some changes in your copy. But if your client is in a bad mood or just incompetent there is nothing you can do.
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    • Profile picture of the author The Copy Nazi
      Banned
      Originally Posted by nameless7 View Post

      No one is perfect, so once in a while our copies fail. Sometimes it's really our fault and we have to do our best to make it work. But sometimes clients don't know what do they want. So the first scenario is much better because at least you can put every possible effort to bring some changes in your copy. But if your client is in a bad mood or just incompetent there is nothing you can do.
      Our copies fail
      You fail.

      Listen dude... I'm on a mission to educate all you dopes that insist on calling "copy"..."copies". We're not talking about photocopies... we're talking "copy" - short for "copywriting".

      In the West THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS "COPIES" IN THE COPYWRITING WORLD. Neither is there "a copy".

      A single piece of copy is called..."copy". More than one piece of copy... thousands if you like...is still called "copy". NOT "copies". And not "a copy".

      For some reason... you guys in Singapore/Malaysia/Timbucktoo/Woop Woop call copy "copies" and "a copy". But it's still wrong. If you're dealing with Americans/British/Australians/whatever you're just going to look like a rank amateur when you start your "copies" jive talk.

      Do you copy? Out.
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  • Profile picture of the author DrSanders
    When it comes to copy writing if it was professionally made and prepared failure is not common since it is supposed you should already perfectly know your audience
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    • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
      Originally Posted by DrSanders View Post

      When it comes to copy writing if it was professionally made and prepared failure is not common since it is supposed you should already perfectly know your audience
      Knowing your audience is all well and good.

      However, we're paid to make educated guesses, not be psychics. If I already knew what would for sure get them to say yes, I sure as hell wouldn't be working for a living.
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      Aspiring copywriters: if you need 1:1 advice from an experienced copy chief, head over to my Phone a Friend page.

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  • Profile picture of the author st0nec0ld
    It always feels good to fail and try one more time and succeed, than fail and give up.
    I've failed so many times so I know the feeling.
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