Two examples of attempts that failed to work on me come to mind. (1) When we advertised for a copywriter, one fellow wrote, “I checked out your stuff and you need me. Your copy is terrible.” Though that was some eight or so years ago, I remember what went through my mind as I chucked his resumé: “What an ass.” (2) Today I heard from a fellow trying to interest me in his web design services. His email, now in my TRASH bin, said, “Your site is really blah.”
Not that I am a shining tower of tact. I desperately need my associate Joe Szymanski to interface with clients on my behalf. This is due to my uncanny inability to disagree without making them mad, no matter how polite I think I’m being. There must be a “you’re an idiot” tone in my voice. Maybe I should quit rolling my eyes.
Early in my career, I too tried my hand at being insultingly direct, far outstripping the above-cited offenses. “Your ad sucks,” I penned in a letter to the CEO of a company I hoped to woo. Like any good direct marketer, I added a PS. Unfortunately, it said, “My partner thinks ‘sucks’ is a bit strong. Not me.”
I can’t speak for the morons who wielded their bluntness at me, but I know what the moron who wrote “your ad sucks” was thinking. I was thinking my gutsy approach was going to impress the CEO. What should have occurred to me was that maybe he liked and was proud of his ad. Maybe I was insulting his baby.
(I might also add a caution about being over-tactful, which can be annoying and insulting. But that’s another blog.)
In my experience, most people who say “give it to me straight” are not to be taken literally. I have had only a few clients who appreciate utter candor. Stu comes to mind. A hardboiled New Yorker stereotype, he had a real heart under a thick crust. I trusted him implicitly; he always kept his word. If he chanced to suggest an unwise revision, I felt free to say, “Dumb idea.” He would ask why, and I would explain that his idea had been tested and tended not to work. “You convinced me,” he would growl, “Do it your way. But you’re an asshole.” The candor, as you can see, went both ways. Stu is a great man.
Maybe my copy is terrible. Maybe my website is blah. You’re looking at both, so you tell me. As a reader, you have the privilege of eschewing tact. Unless, of course, you plan to hit me up for a job anytime soon.
How have I solved the dilemma of needing to point out what’s wrong with a prospect’s beloved ad in order to sell a better one? Easy: “I saw your ad, and I get what you’re trying to do. I may be able to suggest one or two modifications that would strengthen it."