Tuesday, January 6, 2009

When the Client is Tone-Deaf

I recently had a client who ran a luxury linens company. Her product evoked luxuriousness, indulgence, and expense. Her target audience had more than enough extra income to spare. She needed a new website--and she loved the writing I did for a previous client. She wanted exactly the same thing on her site. The problem? That previous client was a rock band photographer. His writing was edgy and cool and pushed the envelope. Her business was totally different in nature and appealed to a totally different audience.

I wrote up something I felt was in keeping with her audience and product. She wrote back saying it wasn't edgy enough. Okay, but that's totally the wrong tone for the audience. What do you do in this situation? I'm a bit torn. I want the client to be happy. I want the project finished on time without endless revisions chasing an edgy tone that just doesn't match the subject matter. But I also want it to be appropriate.

So what do you do when the client is tone deaf? My first option is to rewrite everything (and it's a large project) with a crazy edginess that's totally inappropriate to the audience, but that makes her happy. Option two is to explain why I feel that's not a great idea (and that's presumably why she hired me, right? For my marketing expertise? Or maybe it was just for my ability to write edgy funny copy?) I'm hoping there's an option three, a middle ground where I can add a touch of edge here and there while keeping the tone consistent with the product and audience. But I'm not sure if there is a middle ground for this one.

Have you ever come across a situation like this before? What would you do?

14 comments:

Dawn said...

My mentor (this amazing woman: http://theotherjuliaroberts.com) and I talked about this. She says she tells them, "You are paying me for my expertise but you're the customer. I will do what you want but I want to go on record saying that this is the direction you should go in." I have a lot to learn from her because I just don't have that confidence yet.

ShelleyP said...

This is a great question, Jennifer.

Is it a possibility to take one area of the site and use it as a test to demonstrate the difference to your client? Use the edgy writing the client wants but have your preferred version ready to use after an agreed period, making sure both styles of copy get equal time in the same seasonal cycle with the same offers/incentives (if applicable). Then hopefully the results will speak for themselves?

{For what it's worth, I have tried funny/edgy for my own online store with luxury products and it hasn't yet worked - though I'm not an experienced copywriter, so perhaps I just lacked the ability to combine copy that sells with copy that entertains.}

John White, Localization Guy said...

Go to the oracle: Run your copy by a couple of her trusted clients. They will tell you what they think of it.

Susan Johnston said...

I was going to give the same advice as Shelley: write one section of the website as a test to see if that's truly what she wants. This is one of those cases where it may be worth speaking up and explaining why this may not be the direction she wants. But if she persists, then ultimately, you may have to give her what she wants to keep the client happy. Not sure if you're billing hourly, but I hope you're getting compensated for redoing the site with an "edgy" tone.

allanmcdougall said...

I'm 100% with Dawn here. Do exactly what the client asks for, but offer your professional opinion. In an ideal world you could follow ShelleyP's suggestion of creating two versions of the copy, but that's just a waste of time.

Offer advice amd do what the client wants. You'll bill them for a copy rewrite when they aren't getting an appropriate ROI.

Great discussion question here.

ShelleyP said...

@Allan: Great point! After I posted, the commercial reality dawned on me ...

Metal_Warrior said...

Totally agree with you allanmcdougall... Visiting your blog for the first time and its very interesting and informative!

Lori said...

Completely on Dawn's ship here, too. Give her edgy, but explain why that may not work. Let her be the judge. Sometimes we have to let our babies fall. It's how they learn to walk. LOL

Debbie Mason said...

Hi Jennifer, while you ARE working for the client and in the end she/he is the one that has to be happy with your work, it's your own commitment to your work ethic that makes it impossible not to also create work for her that in your professional opinion will get the job done for her. There just needs to be a compromise...edit to make the copy a bit more edgy to soothe the client, then convince her that you know what you're doing and that rock-star edgy is not quite right for luxury linens! Good luck!

Debbie

Devon Ellington said...

Ultimately, she's the client, and she's paying you for what SHE wants. I'd be honest with her about your concerns about tone, but, ultimately, she's paying you for HER vision, not yours. It's not a bylined piece that represents YOU, it's not a piece of fiction or non-fiction created in your vision, it's about what SHE wants. If she's misread her audience, you warned her, and, ultimately, it's on her head. It goes with the territory. You're the hired hand in this situation, not the control.

Courtney - Web Writing Info.com said...

I'd stand your ground and explain why, but if she insists on going the other direction, rewrite the content to make her happy. Ultimately she'll be happier with better results from her visitors. If she does go with the edgier content she may find out that you were right and want to revert back.

Russell said...

Hey, why can't linen be the new rock&roll?
8-)

All the best!

Yachika said...

I have faced this same situation and I opted for re-writing option...

Jennifer Williamson said...

Hey all,

Thanks for the excellent advice--you've affirmed for me that I've handled it the right way. I advised the client against going too crazy, and was met with the reply: "write it up crazy, and we'll rein you in." Extensive revisions. Great. So far the project is ongoing, but I'll post later on the outcome. Thanks again!