Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Can't Buy Me Words

That is, the client won't pay for my words. The quality of my words is not the problem. The problem is that my company charges a decent rate for these words, and the client can't or won't cough up that kind of dough for words.

I am the only copywriter at a tiny internet marketing firm. This may imply to those with knowledge of good copywriting salaries that I rake it in, but that's not the case.

Don't get me wrong -- my pay is not what I'm taking issue with here. My company is amazing -- they accommodate my crazy school schedule, let me do some work from home (er, the school library...), and make sure I have good lighting, a big enough screen, and have offered me a job after graduation and throughout grad school. And they pay me a better hourly wage than any college student I know (who isn't a stripper) can boast. If I'm poor it's because I can only work five to fifteen hours a week, not because I'm not being taken care of.

That said, my company has to charge a fair market rate for their services as a company. The real problem with getting words sold lies in the client's underestimation of how important good content is for his websites, and in his not understanding what a specialized and skilled job the copywriter does for him.

Here are the average U.S. salaries for a couple of copywriter "species":

Web Copywriter - $48,000
Advertising Copywriter - $62,000

These spiral onward and upward with seniority, location, and taking on more roles, i.e. editor, creative director. As one former advertising copywriter puts it, "That's a lot of scratch for being able to wear jeans!" And at my company you can even wear your pajamas.

My copywriting "level" falls somewhere in between the advertiser and the web writer. Not just because what I do is a mix of advertising with and "webifying" the words, but because I think I would be a considered a more rare find than a mere web copywriter -- because of my focus on meaningful content. The advertiser gets paid more than a web writer because he has to be a psychologist, a businesman, and a writer. I would ask for more than a web writer because I have to be a researcher, a diletante, and a writer.

So this is why my company asks for a little more for my words. And I think we deliver a lot of bang for the buck. Many corporations hire overpriced PhD holders (I mean "holders" in the most derogatory sense) to churn out lots of corporate-speak nonsense that reads at a grade level of 20 to 30 and doesn't tell the customer a damn thing, even if he has a PhD too. One site on reading indexes calls this kind of writing "government conspiracy" level. I call it total crap.

My company keeps me in this writing job because I have a natural ability with words (words of the people, lets call'em), and I am interested (or can become freakishly interested, at the drop of a hat) in the most obscure and inane topics. As I mentioned in earlier work-related posts I have written on quite a gamut of topics:

--Recycling used office equipment
--The history of dog collars
--The history and meaning of nurse hats
--The history of chefing and chef uniforms
--How to choose the right envelopes for your business
--The dangers and benefits of taking fish oil

You can probably guess what all these articles were latently trying to sell. But we hide it pretty well, and give real information on topics people actually search for! Yes, it is quite the tight rope that I walk, if I do say so muhself. It's not a big secret how it works, but I've given away enough details now.

My argument comes back to the client's misunderstanding of what copywriting entails, and his disregard for meaning and content.

"Web 2.0" is moving toward Web 2.1. Now that we have internet gadgets, blogs, social networks, feeds, and tools that manage and concord all these beasts, we are getting savvier about what we want out of them. People know how to ignore or navigate through banner ads, forum and blog lurker ads, internet infomercials, etc. We may have little control over guerilla advertising's affect on our souls in the real "3-D" world, but we can control our experience of the internet and take what we want from it.

In a steaming pile of information dump, we're learning to be the little dung beetles who seek out the nuggets of true content. And once we've made it second nature to dig for the content nuggets, we're going to start caring about what they taste like -- the quality.

The businessman or the webmaster, or whoever is in charge of "buying the words" for websites, has so far refused to adapt to Web 2.1. He has refused to consider the next generation's (target consumer's) high expectations for internet content. Perhaps even worse, he has refused to consider the next generation of highly intelligent content-lovin' search engines! Finally, he certainly has refused to consider how much time, effort, and might I add talent, it takes to turn their shitty, soulless messages of consumerism into something regular people enjoy reading.

So I make good nuggets, I suppose. The client is still happy with his old dried-up dung piles. He deserves to pay through the nose for what he's getting. And until he realizes that, he won't get any new words for his site. Not from us anyway.

Now that I'm freed up, I get to apply my craft to my company's own websites. My bosses know that value of what I'm doing. And even though they don't pay me what they charge the other guys for my services, at least I'm writing for some good people with good messages and good products.
Now I can forget about that "copywriting duel" me and that cloven hoofed feller had scheduled a la "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Until we pick up another client, my soul is safe.

1 comment:

  1. What?! How much do words cost? I can't imagine they'd be insanely overpriced. Robyn, are you charging extra for words ;-p Sorry, I've now moved into the slaphappy phase of tiredness. I'm going to crash later, let me tell you.

    Your job actually sounds quite nice. Flexible hours, flexible location, security, etc. Plus, you don't have to objectify yourself like the stripper does. Kind of off topic, but exactly how many women strip their way through college? That's the cliche, but are there many doctors or CEOs that worked the pole in their college days? I very much doubt it :-D

    People take language for granted. We use it so much that we don't even think about it anymore. I can't believe that I'm actually surprised that your clients would quibble over paying for words.

    Don't you hate people who just throw out a ton of gigantic words to make something sound more important then it actually is? People don't appreciate the art of writing anymore. Sometimes it's the simplicity that is poetry.

    I love the passion you display in this entry. And you're totally right. Your clients should be more open to the fact that techno-jargon is going to turn a lot of people off. Simplicity is often a much more effective tool then flowery language.

    I think that last paragraph was my favorite. "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" visual cracked me up.

    Eagerly awaiting the next post (and here's hoping that my schedule lightens up a bit so that I can actually read it on time ;-p)


I publish all the comments, the good, the bad and the ugly. Unless I have no idea what you're saying. If you want to email me (with only good I hope), I'm at rbyrd [at] niu [dot] edu.