Freelance copywriter? Clients to avoid. #3 The Dirty Tricks Co.

The Dirty Tricks Co may have a very pleasant marketing director who will get in touch with you with great news: the company is about to revamp a shedload of its marketing material – websites, brochures, technical leaflets, sales letters, PR, the lot – and they’d like you to be the freelance copywriter to handle it. Could you come along to a briefing meeting at their premises two hours’ drive away on Tuesday? In the meantime, here’s a mass of background information plus briefing documents. If you could have a thorough read through before you arrive then that would be simply splendid. So you put aside a morning to read and digest the documentation and a further afternoon to drive over for this promising meeting with the marketing team and MD.

Initially all seems to be going fairly well. For the first hour they explain what they are looking for and pick your brains for ways in which you might fulfil the brief. You, in turn, share all your experience, knowledge, insights and suggestions for how they might drive this huge campaign forward. A manager is taking copious notes, the MD is prompting you to reveal more… But suddenly you catch the eye of the very pleasant marketing director and there’s something in his look that makes you begin to smell a rat.

He looks apologetic. He looks kind of guilty. And gradually you realise that this isn’t a briefing meeting after all; it’s a business pitch. After a bit of probing it appears they’re seeing another copywriter the following day. Meanwhile they’d like you to do a ton of (free) outlines and suggestions at home and send it back to them ASAP.

You weren’t ready for this. Briefing and pitching are two very different things. You begin to feel uncomfortable. Scrutinised and on trial rather than being welcomed as part of the team. And not once did the very pleasant marketing director hint that this was a pitch and not a briefing.

But then you realise that’s not all…

Something someone says makes the penny drop. They have no intention whatsoever of hiring you. Indeed they never had. The other copywriter is their regular freelancer and they’ve simply asked you in to pick your brains for free ideas, expertise and insights. And meanwhile, a bit of freebie homework wouldn’t go amiss so they can give their marketing team additional ideas and approaches to work with.

This is a true account. But, I hear you saying, how can you be certain this was the case?

Well by the end of the meeting I was so very certain that, afterwards, as the very pleasant marketing director guiltily led me to my car and shook my hand goodbye, I confronted him. I very pleasantly and subtly suggested that this was why I had been brought in. Simply to provide free input. And, yes, that appeared to be the case. Boy, was he embarrassed.

So when I got home I fired off an email thanking him for his time but explaining that, sorry, I wouldn’t be able to produce the additional freebie work due to other copywriting commitments.

Sadly this experience isn’t unique. The Dirty Tricks Co and its fellow naughty organisations love to pick experts’ brains. After all, why pay for a consultant when you can get his or her input for free?


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