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Should you “audition” for copywriting work?

December 12th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Recently, I wrote an essay on why I am firmly against writing
on spec.

My subscriber KR, an experienced and successful freelance
copywriter, responded:

“Bob, regarding spec work: Yes, if someone asked me to write
something on spec, I would run away.

“But sometimes if I’m pitching a very profitable-looking project,
and I see that I can add a lot of value, I’ll tell them that I’ll
write a few paragraphs to give them a feel for what they’ll get.

“In other words, I VOLUNTEER to spec a little bit — and I can
honestly say, I don’t remember anybody ever turning me down after
they get a look at what I can do for them.

“It only takes me a couple of minutes to do a little writing, and
it pays off. I think the key is that I am confidently suggesting it; not
proving myself to a doubting Thomas.

“Of course, I would not recommend this to novices, but it works
for me.”

Well, as much as I like and respect KR, I am totally opposed to
what he suggests here — which is essentially “auditioning” for a
copywriting project by doing some spec writing — for 3 reasons.

>> First, there is a rule in selling that says, “Never be the
dancing monkey.”

The dancing monkey is desperate.

He needs or wants the work.

So to get it, he will do or say whatever the prospect asks him to
do or say.

The problem is, some prospects lose respect for dancing monkeys;
they feel the monkey is perhaps a tad TOO eager — and therefore
turn away and do not hire him.

>> Second, despite KR’s insistence that “it only takes a couple
of minutes,” my experience is that almost NOTHING takes “only a
couple of minutes.”

Let me ask you: How often have you estimated a certain number of
hours to do a project … and then, well into that allotted time and not
nearly done, realize you have once again badly underestimated how
long it will really take?

We usually underestimate the numbers of hours a given task will
take and only rarely overestimate the time required.

Also, let’s say KR delivers his spec work in a flash.

That’s also a problem, because many people believe that it is
axiomatic that the quality of a piece of writing is directly
proportional to the amount of time it took to write … even though
that is often NOT the case.

Therefore, if you deliver your little spec audition pronto, the
prospect will either think it can’t be any good, because you did
it so fast.

Or, he will believe that your price for his project is too high,
because after all, look how little time it took for you to write
the first part of it, right?

>> Third, when you dash off a quick spec writing sample as your
“audition,” you are not doing the extensive groundwork and
research required to write great copy.

For me, that research usually accounts for 25% to 40% of the
total labor involved in a copywriting project.

And that research is all done before I write word one of the

So to write and submit headlines and leads before doing my due
diligence is shortchanging the client and delivering copy to him that
is not half as good as it could be — which in turn makes you look
half as good as you are.

Also, offering to write a free sample on spec says to the client
that you are not busy, and you need the job.

And clients prefer hiring vendors who seem in-demand and
successful, and not so desperate or needy that they work on spec.

After all, if you already have a full dance card, why would you
give away what you sell?

That being said, KR insists that spec auditions work for him.

And since I know him to be an honest man, it therefore must work
for him.

But it would never work for me.

I doubt it would work for most people.

And if anything, it has the potential to unsell you more than
sell you, for the 3 reasons just given.

So I adamantly advise against auditioning for a copywriting
client with even a short spec submission — despite KR’s advice to
the contrary.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 12th, 2017 at 9:07 am and is filed under Writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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