Handling Rejection as a Copywriter

Sometimes Clients Can Be Hard to Please


Nobody enjoys receiving criticism. Unfortunately, it’s a part of any type of creative endeavor, and that includes copywriting. Remember when your mom said, “You can’t please everyone.” Well, she was right.

No matter how talented you are and how hard you work, you’re eventually going to run into a client who is dissatisfied. It may be that your work was off the mark or that the client is difficult. Just don’t take it personally.

Develop some mental toughness and self-confidence. Try and make it right. Then move on. There are other fish in the sea who will love your work. Here are some more questions and answers on that subject.

Do you receive feedback from clients?

Yes, all the time. But that feedback isn’t about me personally. It’s commentary on the copywriting work I do for them.

When I write copy for clients, they review my work and determine if they like it, need any revisions, want to add or detract anything, etc. I revise the copy until they’re fully satisfied before sending my final invoice.

Do you ever have clients who disagree with or criticize the copywriting work you’ve done for them?

I do. It goes with the territory so you need to develop a tough skin. Clients can be harsh when they’re not pleased. Often they expect you to be a mind reader and to come up with what they were envisioning even though they didn’t communicate their ideas to you.

Sometimes you run into difficult clients who simply can’t be pleased. No matter how much you do, they’re never going to be satisfied.

You shouldn’t internalize their critiques. If a client says they don’t like what you wrote, you can’t jump to the conclusion that you’re a horrible writer. Just work toward creating what they want.

Most of the time, clients provide valuable feedback. They know their business better than you do. Their input is based on industry experience. I will make whatever revisions they want.

However, if I feel they are making a mistake from a marketing or copywriting perspective, I’ll tell them my thoughts in a diplomatic manner. Then they can decide how they want to proceed. In the end, they are the paying customer, and so the decision is theirs. My bruised ego can’t play a role in that process.

If I think a customer is being overly critical, making ridiculous demands or simply can’t be pleased, I will complete the project in question in whatever manner they want and then, in a nice way, decline to take on further work from them. Here’s a quick story of one time I took that approach.

The Elephant in the Room

I was once contacted by a man who owned a financial planning company and wanted me to help write his company’s brochure. He gave me text he’d already written and asked me to edit it.

He’d come up with a theme based on a huge painting in his office of an elephant. Throughout the copy, he referenced how his company’s financial planners were like elephants because in ancient African folklore they’re thought to have wisdom and also, everyone knows they never forget anything. I couldn’t help rolling my eyes.

I read through the copy, and it was pathetic. It was way too long, about eight pages of text when only three would fit in the brochure template he’d chosen. Every sentence was a lengthy paragraph. The copy rambled on and on. It journeyed off onto tangents from which it never returned. It repeated each point in three or four different ways.

Not only was it tedious to read, it was nearly impossible to comprehend. And the absurd elephant theme reared its big, ugly trunk about every other paragraph.

I made the (wrong) assumption that the client probably knew the copy wasn’t very good but had done the best he could. I decided to be a hero and rewrite all the copy from scratch, even though I’d quoted only editing. I’d even find a way to make the crazy elephant analogy work, “We help you think big…”

When done, I knew the copy I’d written was far more effective than the client’s original. It was much shorter, clearly made its key points and included that @%$#& elephant. I proudly sent him the new, improved draft, even though it was Friday and the copy wasn’t due until the following week. I’m an over-achiever, what can I say?

A few hours later, instead of the praise and appreciation I expected, I received a scathing email from the client. He told me he hated the copy. Not only was it all wrong, it was clear I didn’t understand the elephant analogy. He went on to call me a “terrible writer” and ended the email with, “Keep the deposit. I don’t care. I just don’t want to work with you anymore.”

As you can imagine, I was upset, even though I knew the client was off-base and evidently also had an anger management problem. To top it off, this was Friday night so I had all weekend to stew about the situation.

On Monday I put on my big-girl pants and wrote the client a pleasant note saying that I was sorry he was disappointed. I said I realized that I shouldn’t have ignored his instructions, and I’d like the opportunity to make it right. I would redo the copy his way and then he could decide if he wanted it or a refund of his deposit. He agreed to let me try. (Gee, thanks.)

A few hours later, I submitted the new copy. This time, instead of a rewrite of his original draft, I kept all his original wording and only cleaned up the grammar, spelling and punctuation. I kept the length and all the nonsensical, pointless prose about the elephant.

It was probably the single worst example of copywriting I’ve ever submitted to a client. I certainly wouldn’t be including this brochure in my portfolio. And a part of me still believed that when the client read it, he would realize how awful it was and revert to the first draft I’d submitted as the one to publish.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The client loved draft #2. He called and thanked me profusely. He even apologized for his previous note. Explained he’d been having a bad day. He was now my most zealous supporter. No one was more surprised than me.

When the client submitted the draft to his designer/printer, he was told it had too much copy, exactly as I’d warned. So he had the designer make the type extremely small and add another four pages to the brochure. He didn’t want to cut a single word. And that’s exactly how it went to print!

What did I learn from this puzzling experience? Don’t try to save the client from himself. Offer your best advice and suggestions. Then let him make the final call. He who writes the check gets to decide, even if the brochure or website as he envisions it is not likely to accomplish his goals.

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Emotionally, how do you handle rejection, particularly when you’ve worked hard to pitch a client or prepare a proposal?

Getting a “no” is just part of sales and marketing. It comes with the territory of running a business. You’re not going to hit home runs every day. Frankly, if you aren’t booked solid, and you aren’t getting a “no” on a regular basis, then you aren’t trying hard enough.

Keep in mind too that a “no” today isn’t necessarily a “no” forever. Circle back to that prospect every now and then to show your interest and persistence. Over time, they very well may change that “no” to a “yes.”

How do you deal with naysayers, people who think you’re headed for failure?

Ed Gandia, a copywriter coach I admire, recently wrote a blog post about failure. He said, “Most people consider failure a bad thing. It’s something to be avoided. That’s how I viewed it until just a few years ago. But then I discovered that when you realize failure is a necessary ingredient for success, you view it differently.”

He suggests viewing failure as feedback and a necessary step in the process. Think of it as marking the beginning, not the end. He adds, “It’s the reason why many venture capitalists won’t invest in startups where the founder has never had a failed company. They know that failure is the best teacher. And without failing, the founder hasn’t learned important lessons.”

Interesting perspective, right?

Like anyone, I’ve had my share of people who told me I wasn’t good enough and didn’t have what it takes to be successful. My boss at the advertising agency, my first real job, delighted in put-downs and insults. Many times I had to fight to hold back the tears.

You can’t let people like that crush your spirit. Who says they know more than you about yourself? Use their words as motivation to learn more and work harder. Prove them wrong. Or, even better, prove your supporters right!

I’m reminded of an author-friend who has written more than a dozen books. He once told me a story about rejection he experienced early on in his career.

Don’t Let Rejection Stop You from Succeeding

I have a friend who writes children’s books, mostly for middle schoolers. About 5 years ago, he wrote his first book for high schoolers and he shared the premise and a few chapters with his writers’ group, about 8 friends who’d had varying levels of success as authors. They tore it apart. They told him the premise was stupid and the writing was amateurish. He was depressed for months.

Well, about a year later, he gathered up his courage and nervously submitted the manuscript to his agent. He felt he needed to go through the motions to get closure before setting the manuscript aside for good.

You can probably guess the end of the story. The agent loved it. She sold it. It’s been published, and he’s made good money from it. It’s even won some literary awards. Turns out he knew a whole lot more about writing than those so-called experts in his writers’ group.

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client loves your copy

Try not to dwell on criticism. Learn from it and move on. But be sure to enjoy the moment when your client loves your copy.

My advice is to accept comments from critics (many of whom are probably jerks), with a grain of salt. If they offer constructive advice, and you think their points are valid, then take the necessary action. If they’re only being critical, then ignore their negativity and don’t let it get you down.

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