What to do When Clients Edit the Magic Out of Your Work

Last week I received a phone call from a principal of a marketing agency in Portland. She’d found me through the Conclave website and wanted to know what advise I had for people struggling with clients who edit all the marketing-speak out of their content–leaving it bland, ineffective, and unnecessarily safe (read: boring). It’s a really good question. So good, in fact, that I thought it would make an excellent blog post. Here are the five ways I suggested she could stop the client contact (we’ll call her “Linda”) from editing the magic out of her work:

  1. Present Your Work

  2. Present the work to Linda so she understands why you wrote what you wrote, and explain the strategy behind it. An in-person presentation would probably be best, but a videoconference could work just as well. Doing this for no reason might be difficult to explain to her, so make it an event. If you’ve been working with Linda and her employer for awhile, suggest a two- or four-hour check-in meeting to catch-up with the team, re-align on goals and messaging, discuss the big upcoming campaign, etc.

    This approach would be perfect because you could then justify getting a few other content stakeholders in the room (in addition to Linda). That way it’ll be understood by multiple people at the company what the strategic approach is and why it’s the best way to go. Now you’ve got back-up and buy-in from within the company, beyond Linda. (You’ve very thoroughly and professionally gone over her head.) It’s possible Linda is operating with a different understanding of the goal of the content. Leading to option 2…

  3. Open a Dialogue

  4. Invite Linda to tell you why she’s making the changes to your work that she’s making. This opens up a dialogue about what everyone understands to be the purpose of the content and how it should be written. If Linda is editing the hell out of everything you write, it’s likely because her understanding of what’s needed is different than yours. Such situations can lead to larger problems, and need to be reconciled as quickly as possible.

    Assuming Linda isn’t the boss of the company, it’s possible the boss could find out that his employee is spending valuable time editing your work–work he’s paying you to do. If that’s the case, why bother with you at all? He might as well find a new agency to create his content if yours is so bad it has to be heavily edited every time. This Linda problem you have? Bad for your business.

  5. Show the Client the Difference

  6. Try showing Linda the difference in results between your strategic, expert, unadulterated content and her bland, conservative, non-strategic content. Suggest that you do a test campaign: one with her edits and one where she doesn’t even touch it. Show her the analytics of both (is it’s an email campaign or social media posts, for example) afterwards.

    I can only assume that the work of the competent marketing agency will do better. These tangible results will provide serious support for why you should be allowed to do what you do best, and be deferred to when there’s a question about the content. Having those kinds of numbers on-hand can also help if her boss gets involved in the content quality discussion–proof that your approach is working, and hers isn’t.

  7. Go Over Her Head

  8. I suppose this could be akin to tattling, but seriously, this is business. You can go over Linda’s head and talk directly to her boss about your content quality concerns. If you think she’s getting in the way of you doing the job you’re being paid to do, her boss/the owner of the company needs to be made aware of it. It’s your responsibility as an honest vendor to make sure your client is getting the quality and value they expect, and that you want to deliver.

  9. Break Up With the Client

  10. If you’ve tried everything else and neither Linda nor her employer are getting it, I would recommend firing the client. No matter how much Linda edits your work, at the end of the day, your name is on it. That’s your reputation being sent out to people’s inboxes, or posted on the client’s website. If Linda is making you look bad or unskilled, it could ruin your reputation, and future opportunities with other clients (or even with that client!).

    Do your best to educate the client and bring them around to trusting you to do your job. After all, why’d they hire you in the first place if they didn’t like the work you were doing? And why have they continued to work with you if your work wasn’t working for them? Get Linda out of the way. If you can’t, cut that fish loose and move on to more fruitful opportunities. Your time and reputation are too valuable to waste, because once gone, you can’t get either back.

Have you ever had a client (or known someone who did) who was making your job harder by messing up your work? Let’s hear it.

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