"Wordsmith it a Little"

[September 9, 2009]

In the lifetime of every American copywriter, lurks a dark and troubling shadow that creeps into the creative process and begins an un-Godly reign of terror. Aided by its sibling demon “We Just Need a Few Tweaks,” the monster claims its victims with cruel and inexorable precision.

“The client wants to pick up the existing copy, so we just need you to Wordsmith it a Little.”

So says the unsuspecting AE, unaware that uttering this phrase is a tell-tale sign of demonic possession. Here begins a cascading descent into mediocrity and ballooning cost. It’s a scourge only the most valiant Copy Creative can combat—and only at great personal risk.

“Wordsmith it a little:” I shudder to recall the countless creative concepts I’ve seen, writhing in agony, as their messaging strategies were painfully eroded by a thousand ill-conceived copy revisions.

Keep it the same, just change it.
The nightmare begins with a client’s request to contain costs by recycling existing copy. To the inexperienced, the untrained and the indifferent, that seems simple enough—except that this copy is:

• Stylistically inconsistent
• Riddled with redundancies
• Scribbled over with contradictory internal comments
• Photocopied into an unreadable smear

On receiving this incoherent mess, the copywriter is jolted out of the monster’s lulling sleep and demands a client meeting. Too late. Despite the need for a total rewrite, the client now expects the existing copy to be preserved in tact—“with just a few tweaks.”

Such a cavalier attitude toward the creative process might make you wonder if copywriters need a hairdresser’s license to practice their craft. “Just a little off the top, the client’s in a hurry,” croaks a chorus of doomed AEs, their heads spinning around like weather vanes in the wind.

A madness feeding on ignorance…
Like many a social menace, “Wordsmith it a Little” grows out of misinformation, in this case the myth that copywriting is primarily about choosing the next word. This monster quickly seduces an average of eight people into obsessing about words through multiple rounds—without first agreeing on the message those words should convey.

…takes its toll in cost, quality and reputation.
Later, glancing at the balance sheet, you may wonder how “such a simple project” ate up so much money. The answer lies in the management decision to treat Copy like an object, or worse, like a bargaining chip. This circumvents the creative process, plunging the project into a vortex of inefficiency that quickly overwhelms both the schedule and the budget.

I’m here today to attest that incurring multiple extra rounds, due to anxious word-noodling, is an extremely irresponsible way to craft a message to consumers. As to the quality of that message, is it any wonder your client roster has recently been haunted by a ghoulish Roving Eye?


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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