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A Virtual Conversation with Ken Norkin.

Suppose you just called me at 301-891-3614 to discuss a freelance copywriting assignment and you got my voice mail. Or maybe it’s late at night or the weekend and I’m actually not at my desk. It happens. I’m sure we’ll talk sooner or later. Until then, here are some of the most common questions prospective clients (and other writers) have asked me over the years. And what I’d say to you if I were better at answering off the top of my head.

Have you ever written a [fill in type of communication]?

Have you ever written for or about [fill in market, industry or subject]?

Do you work with clients only in the New York area?

What kind of clients do you prefer to work with?

Do you work with ad agencies or design studios?

So do agencies and studios get lower rates than your direct clients?

If a client wants to write their own first draft and have you edit it, would you charge less than you would for writing?

Have you won any awards? If so, why aren’t you splashing that all over your Web site?

Can you tell me the inside story on some of the projects in your portfolio?

I would like to become a copywriter. But so much of today’s communication seems to be short and visual. Is there a future for copywriters?

 

Have you ever written a [fill in type of communication]?

In over 30 years, I’ve written just about every type of communication. Brochures of every size and description. White papers on software products, services and solutions. Direct mail letters, packages, self-mailers and bounce backs. Print and electronic newsletters. Web sites. Annual reports for community hospitals and Fortune 500 corporations. Fundraising case statements. Print ads. Radio commercials and industrial film narrations. Even a magician’s product-related patter for a trade show.

If the copywriting project you envision is more specific than anything I’ve done to-date, call me to talk about it.

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Have you ever written for or about [fill in market, industry
or subject]?

Yes.

Okay, I haven’t written for every industry, product or profession. But one thing I’ve learned in 30 years of marketing communications is that business customers have remarkably similar reasons for buying remarkably different products and services. And companies in vastly different industries have amazingly similar marketing challenges.

For example, I’ve helped countless companies in wireless communications, vehicle monitoring, applications serving, print tracking, virtualization and building security change their marketing messages from selling products to offering solutions. Different businesses making the same transition — with my experience smoothing the way.

Which means I’m certain that I can apply the lessons learned from my past projects to your current needs.

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Do you work with clients only in the New York area?

No. I only relocated to New York in 2013. Today, as in my more than 20 years of freelancing in the Washington, D.C., area, I work with clients coast-to-coast, from Phoenix to Boston, from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale. Nearly all of my work, whether the client is local or out-of-town, is handled by phone and email. But I’m available for in-person meetings and travel when a project calls for it.

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What kind of clients do you prefer to work with?

My favorite clients are the ones who know their business as well as I know mine. Clients who really know their company, product, markets, competitors and customers are the best at providing me the information I need to write copy that does the job.

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Do you work with ad agencies or design studios?

Of course. Truth is, most of my assignments come to me through ad agencies and design studios. The rest is direct work for corporate, professional, association and government clients.

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So do agencies and studios get lower rates than your direct clients?

No. Believe me, as a former ad agency VP responsible for the profitability of projects and accounts, I appreciate that creative firms are entitled to mark up my fees so they can earn their well-deserved profit on my services. The experience of 17 years shows that agencies and studios can make the numbers work without my discounting my rates.

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If a client wants to write their own first draft and have you edit it, would you charge less than you would for writing?

Sure. But not because I charge less for editing, but because editing — or, rather, rewriting — your copy should take less time than my writing it from scratch.

Typically, I provide one editorial pass at about half the fee for writing the same piece. To provide a first cleaned up draft plus up two more rounds of revisions of the original material as I do on copywriting assignments, the fee would be about two-thirds. Those are typical costs. I’m happy to look at your copy to give you a firm quote based on what I think it needs.

The main assumption on an editing assignment is that you’ve written a complete draft of copy that needs polish, revising or reorganizing to read as if a copywriter wrote it.

Editing your copy does not mean fleshing out an outline, summary or bullet points. Or selectively combining different pieces of background material into new copy. Or conducting interviews to gather information to fill in gaps. That's copywriting.

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Have you won any awards? If so, why aren’t you splashing that all over your Web site?

I’ve won just enough awards to feel validated but far from enough to take them for granted. I don’t make a bigger deal about being an award winner because I can’t promise I’m going to give you award-winning copy. Just my best effort on every job. I still believe that marketing results and repeat business are the best awards for doing good work. But I’ll admit they don’t look as good on the wall.

Awards won by projects I’ve written include:

ADDY Award / AdClub of Washington
• Best Commercial Website, RMR & Associates

MarCom Awards, Gold

• DISYS 2011 rebranding campaign, including web and collateral copy

Big W, Silver and Bronze / Ad Club of Westchester
• Carl Zeiss surgical microscope brochures

Tower Award, Bronze / Business Marketing Association
• Sterling Software direct mail campaign

LACP Vision Awards, Platinum / League of American Communications Professionals
• Nextel Annual 2003 Report (scoring 10 out of 10 for creativity, report narrative and message clarity)

LACP Vision Awards, Bronze
• Nextel 2002 Annual Report
• NII Holdings 2003 Annual Report

Colonial Award of Excellence / American Society for Professional Communications
• Nextel 2002 Annual Report / narrative
• Nextel 2003 Annual Report

Certificate of Excellence / Society for Technical Communication
• Atomic Industrial Forum annual report
• NUS Corporation NUSletter

It’s possible my work has won other awards I don’t know about because clients and agencies have a way of not always letting us freelancers know. Not that I’m complaining.

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Can you tell me the inside story on some of the projects in your portfolio?

I love to talk about my work. In a personal meeting, I’d be happy to tell you where the ideas came from, even when they weren’t mine. I look forward to describing the marketing objectives for any published project and how everyone worked together to handle special requirements such as tight deadlines or a still-evolving product design. Of course, I can’t discuss any client’s current or ongoing marketing plans or project budgets. Just as you can trust me not to discuss yours.

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I would like to become a copywriter. But so much of today’s communication seems to be short and visual. Is there a future for copywriters?

Of course I believe there’s a future for copywriters. No matter how visual print and electronic communications become, every ad, brochure, TV spot and Web page will need copy. Preferably good copy. Even if the copy is short, it still needs to be written. And the best person to write copy that’s both good and short is a copywriter. Even the purely visual TV spot with no dialog has to be written. The best of those spots are written by copywriters practiced in the art of visual storytelling.

And remember: as long as there’s commercial radio, there will be a need for copywriters to write radio commercials.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to be starting an art vs. copy war here. Both are important. The best ads are the ones in which the visuals and words work together to attract attention, convey a concept and then communicate an understandable message. Rarely can visuals alone accomplish all that.

I am confident that enough of the people who pay the bills for advertising will always appreciate and understand the benefit of having their advertising written by people who know how to write.

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