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Do you give great client feedback? Here’s how you know.

An illustration of someone giving feedback to someone elseWe build revision cycles into our copywriting quotes because we expect client feedback. We like to think we provide our clients with the best ways to phrase their messages, but they’re certainly not the only ways. And because our clients (a) know better than we do what they want and (b) know their business better than we do until we’ve been working with them long enough, their feedback is tremendously valuable and almost always makes the work better.

Notice how we said almost always.

Sometimes, client feedback can be the opposite of helpful: confusing, demoralizing, rude, disorganized and unthoughtful. You can’t do anything with this kind of feedback other than address it, give the client what they want and move on.

But this blog isn’t about bad feedback. It’s about great feedback and what makes it so.

The five qualities of great feedback

We’ve been doing this for a long time. We’ve written a ton of V1s and gotten feedback on just about all of them. This is what we look for.

1. Rationales

It’s okay to not like something. Seriously. This is a subjective business. But we have to know why you don’t like it. Too pithy? Too scientific or conversational or funny or goofy or long? If we know your specific objections, we can address them. Context is everything.

2. Examples

If you have an idea about what you want to see, share it! We’re not mind-readers. It can be a link to something you like. It can be something you write. Tell us where you’re head’s at and we’ll join you there.

3. Clarity

It’s important to read your feedback over before you send it through. Do you understand what you’re saying? If you don’t, how likely is it that we will? Our advice in this area is to stay basic. “I’m not feeling this paragraph. It’s too long and I think the reader’s going to get lost. Consider shortening by half and leading with the value prop instead of the example.” Perfect.

4. Time

Years ago, we heard a story of a senior copywriter who, upon getting a change request from an account manager with an outrageously short window to complete it, turned around and said, “You know, we’re not baking cookies here!” And it’s true. Feedback needs to be digested and considered. And it requires thought to shift from what we thought was solid to what you think is more solid. If you want it done right, give us the time to do it right. This isn’t to say we need a week, but more than 45 minutes would be nice.

5. Honesty

Never be afraid to give feedback, and never be afraid to give it to us straight. We’re all big boys and girls — we can take it. And we won’t take it personally because good creative professionals know it’s always about the work.

A last word about giving good feedback

Writing is an iterative process. This can get frustrating, but stick with the process because it’s effective. The best work results from a healthy back and forth between us and you. Sometimes we’ll do a few versions only to decide that what we showed you first was the best option. That’s okay because it’s all about discovery and comparison. The most important thing to remember is that we’re on the same side. We both want the work to be the best it can be, and we both want to be proud of it. And with a commitment to working together, it will be.

The Copywriter’s Curse

Stressed out copywriter

As copywriters, we immerse ourselves in our clients’ businesses. We get to know everything about them because it’s our job to essentially become them. We assume their voice, their tone and manner, and their personality. Their aspirations become our aspirations. Their promises become our promises. And their customers become our customers.

We essentially lose ourselves in them. It’s part of the job, and it’s a fun part of the job.

But getting to that point is a massive challenge. It takes iteration after iteration, feedback loop after feedback loop. It takes brainstorming sessions, working sessions, marked-up copy decks, more sticky notes than we can count, and a lot (a la-hawt) of late nights trying to crack the code, nail the voice and make the arguments our clients need us to make for them.

And it’s made all the more difficult by the fact that they taunt us.

Eyes Wide Open

Years ago, we were working on a copywriting project for Nissan. It was a beast of a project: Eighteen 25-page brochures for 18 different models. The volume alone was a challenge, but it was exacerbated by the fact that much of the information was the same but had to be served up differently in each piece.

Imagine having to describe the functionality and reasoning for Anti-Lock Breaking Systems 18 ways:

– Anti-Lock Breaking Systems (ABS) prevents skidding in wintery conditions by making sure the wheels keep turning and maintain a tractive contact with the road.

– Anti-Lock Breaking System (ABS) technology is what will keep your car from skidding off an icy road by making sure your wheels continue to turn and your tires continue to grip.

That’s two. Now do sixteen more. And while you’re at it, do 18 versions for child-lock windows, seatbelts, air conditioning, seat-warmers, USB power outlets, a V4 engine, every other standard feature Nissans come with and all available Nissan upgrades.

As you can imagine, it was hell on earth. And here’s where the taunting came in: we saw Nissans on every street corner.

Haunted and taunted at the same time

It wasn’t that there were more of them on the road, and it certainly wasn’t because our work boosted sales by 4 million percent (if it had this would be a very different blog).

It was because we started noticing them.

We saw Nissans on the street and in movies where we probably never would have before. We saw Nissan TV ads everywhere (FYI: we’re big NFL fans and Nissan is an NFL sponsor in Canada, so every commercial break was Nissan).

And every time we saw one, it was like our client was mocking us. We couldn’t escape the stress of writing 65,000 words. And every sighting reminded us how far we were from becoming Nissan.

Then we started dreaming about Nissans. We weren’t just falling. We were falling in a Maxima. We weren’t just sitting on the edge of a gorgeous river next to grazing unicorns and dancing leprechauns. We were sitting in a convertible Z. And when our dreams took us to far-off lands, they took us there in a Pathfinder.

It obviously wasn’t intentional (or it was and it’s to this day the most highly coordinated terror campaign of all time). But intentionality doesn’t mean anything when you’re being constantly reminded of your failure.

According to psychologist Sherri Klein, this is common across industries.

Ms. Klein has observed a similar phenomenon in her clients, primarily doctors. “I had one client who spent a year working on a drug for people with Down’s Syndrome. He said he had never noticed how many people with Down’s Syndrome are out and about all the time until he started that project. He said he had to have seen two or three a day. He’d never noticed before.”

“The subconscious’ ability to activate the conscious mind is one of its greatest powers,” says Ms. Klein. “It can show us what it wants us to see. This isn’t to say that we hallucinate or anything, only that we become hyper aware in the real world of what’s taking up large parts of our minds.”

But the Copywriter’s Tides Always Turn

We eventually cracked the Nissan file, delivered a winning campaign and moved on to the next job. It would’ve been great to see Nissan after Nissan post-campaign. A metaphorical pat on the back.

But we had started another project for a flower shop. So all we saw were men carrying flowers. Again, more than you’d think.

Breaking the Curse: Is it possible?

Short answer. No. As Ms. Klein inferred, our minds are hard-wired to do this.

The only real solution is to achieve Nirvana faster. We have it today with a major shipping company. We see their trucks everywhere and we seem to be seeing more of them. We’re happy to take full credit for growing their business to the point where their logo’s on every corner. But we know it’s just the curse — even if it doesn’t feel like one this time around.