Eric Ahrendt Writer

Archive for April, 2014

Pleasing Two Masters

Posted on April 25, 2014 by Comments are off

Like many freelancers, I usually work directly for companies, but occasionally I’m hired to work for an agency or an individual whose client is the company. In that situation, I have two masters: the agency person who hired me, and the marketer at the company they represent. Interposing the agency person as an extra boss/editor/client between me and the final decision-maker (the marketer) complicates my job—sometimes not very much, sometimes so much that I swear I won’t work for an agency again.

More Work, No More Money

The crux of the problem is trying to please two masters whose conception of the assignment may differ a little or a lot. The marketer hired the agency to be the go-between, so he’s going to let the agency manage copy development. That means it’s the agency person giving you direction based on her conception of the project. If it’s the same as the client’s conception, the copy you turn in will be fine. If it’s different, you end up going through several drafts to please your agency master, then several more once the company master sees it and finds out it’s not what he has in mind.

There’s usually no way around this. The agency often doesn’t want you communicating directly with the client, either because they haven’t told him they’re subcontracting the writing, or because they want to control the relationship. That means you get no chance to find out directly from the ultimate decision-maker what he wants. All the direction and feedback you get comes from the agency person, who may or may not get it right. When she doesn’t get it right, you end up doing extra drafts to please the marketer. Why would the direction from the agency person be off the mark? Maybe because she didn’t probe enough with the client to really nail down the elements of the assignment brief. Or because she has a different conception of the assignment that she’s never verified with her client.

In either case, if there’s a disconnect between what the agency and the company think the copy should be, it results in more work for me—for no more money. The agency wants to keep my fee as low as possible, because it’s an expense they want to mark up. The less they pay me, the more they can make on the assignment. So I often have to provide an upfront fee estimate based on a very sketchy project description, then stick to it, even if the scope of the project changes or I end up doing round after round of revisions. This is not a good arrangement, financially or blood-pressure wise, for freelancers like me.

Write Really Specific Estimates

What’s the solution? Don’t take assignments through agencies. Wait; they’re not all losing propositions, so that’s too extreme. But if you do accept the assignment, ask to see the agency’s assignment brief that was developed with the client; if there is one, and you use that as the platform for your copy, you’re less likely to be pleasing only the agency contact.

To head off the problem of doing more work than you’re getting paid for, define in your estimate as precisely as you can what you’re going to do for the fee you’re charging. That enables you to make a case for increasing the fee if the scope goes way beyond what you were asked to quote on. For example, let’s say you’re asked to write a series of HTML emails, and you specify in your written letter of agreement the steps involved and that you’ll do one draft, one rewrite (if necessary) and one round of edits. Then, if you find yourself working on draft five of the first email, you can show your client what you agreed to upfront and how it’s different from what you’re now being asked to do. Most reasonable clients understand and will agree to change the fee. If not, you’ve got one more reason you don’t want to accept another assignment from that agency.

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Most of these posts are my opinions and observations about marcom writing; others are about somewhat-related subjects I felt were post-worthy. I'm just hoping none of my current clients leave me after reading these.

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