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Do You Ask Permission to Post Samples on Your Site? (I Don’t…)

So, I get this email from a FLCW the other day: “I’m embarrassed to say, I have several work samples posted on my website that I didn’t get permission from the clients to use. I realize this is not good business. Do you get permission from every client, even if the piece was posted/published in the public realm?”

My reply? No. Call me crazy, but in my estimation AND experience, this is a non-issue. If I do a B2B or B2C project (virtually all my work) for a company – by definition, one created for public dissemination – I can display it in my online portfolio.

Only once in 15 years – many years ago – did I ever ask permission to use a piece. I was told I couldn’t and given no good reason for denying my request (the pieces were part of a customer newsletter!). So being, I suppose, a bit anti-establishment, what I took away from that unsatisfying encounter was NOT that I needed to ask each time, but rather that I’d never ask again. And knock on wood, in 15 years, I’ve never had a problem.

Sure, if it’s internal (i.e., proprietary and potentially sensitive, though not all internal communication is proprietary), you shouldn’t post those unless you “sanitize” the sample of all sensitive/identifying language, but you’ll know what those situations are.

As I found out, if you ask permission, there’ll be those clients whose anal legal departments have to justify their existences by making grand proclamations about what you can and cannot do with something you created for them. And for no good or logical reason other than they can. Why bother, when chances are literally nil that they’re ever going to know or care that you’ve posted them?

And what’s the worst-case scenario? They tell you to take it down. Think they’ll slap you with a multi-million-dollar lawsuit for posting a sample thousands of people saw? Not a chance. If they decide to be a—-oles about it, they’ll start with a simple “take it down” request. And you take it down. End of story.

She wrote back that she was about to met with an IP (intellectual property) attorney and would ask about it. Straining to not be a smartass, I wrote: “What do you think an IP attorney is going to tell you? Their very professional existence is predicated on coming up with every conceivable thing that could possibly EVER go wrong in a million years. That’s what they’re paid to do. Which, in our case, has virtually no relation to reality.”

She reports back later: “As you suspected, technically we are supposed to get permission from our clients to use their copyrighted material on our websites. It gets stickier if private citizens’ names are used (e.g., in testimonials) as that gets into publicity law which is akin to privacy law.

Same thing for employees featured in the pieces; they would require separate permissions in addition to the company permission. She recommends a form or a letter asking permission to host the pieces on my website to promote my own portfolio.”

There you have it. Sigh. I suppose this is where I’m supposed to say, “Well, defer to legal counsel.” But you know? I’m just not worried about it. At all. If there was ever a more textbook case of the old saying, “Easier to ask forgiveness than permission” this would be it. So, let me have it. Here’s your chance to tell me I’m full of it.

Do you ask permission before posting samples on your web site?

If you don’t, have you ever had a serious issue arise (aside from “take it down” requests)?

What’s your policy on the issue?

“Financial Self-Sufficiency As a Freelance Writer (STILL?) in Six Months or Less”??

Okay, need some input here. As you all know, the subtitle to The Well-Fed Writer is “Financial Self-Sufficiency As a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less.” When TWFW came out in 2000, that subtitle was no hype. After all, I was paying all my bills through commercial freelancing less than four months after hanging out my shingle.

Given the upcoming release of the updated version of TWFW (1Q/09), I’m rethinking this. Can someone, starting from scratch, indeed create a financially stable income stream from this business in 180 days or less? And if not, what would be a fair number?

I can hear you: “Well, it depends.” Course it does. Everyone’s starting in a different place. For someone coming out of, say, a corporate marketing position, with a pile of samples from their old job, a bunch of contacts and perhaps a few clients who’ve already whispered, “Count on me if you go solo” in their ear, I’d say six months is mighty doable. Obviously, someone with little of any of that is going to take a whole lot longer.

I can count on the fingers of one hand, minus 2 or 3, the number of folks who’ve bitched at me in the past eight years because it took them longer than six months. So, I’m not terribly worried about a bunch of whiney “You promised!” emails. I just want to be straight with people. I say it was easier when I started way back when, but that could have been my imagination: you’re in a groove, all pumped, nothing’s going to stop you, maybe it just seems easier. Can’t be sure. Hence the question. And yes, Jon, I know, if I think it’s easy, I’m right. And if I think it’s hard, I’m also right… 😉

But if it is a bit harder, conventionally speaking (and by definition, being a book title, it has to speak to everyone), I’d like the title to reflect that. And it needs to reflect how long it would take that mythical average person starting out – sort of a generally-speaking number. I’m sorta leaning toward 12 months. Sounds realistic, but still has a bit ‘o the “wow” factor (more so, of course, if you never saw the first one…).

What magic number would you put in this title? Twelve months?

If you’ve been in the business for more than 5 years (and preferably at least 7-8), do you think it’s harder than when you started, and if so, how so?

The Power of NO…When Turning Down Work Just Feels Right…

So, I’m working on a project with this agency and they start hinting at this other gig. Seems they’ve been writing the copy for this consumer products line for seven years, and while the client is fine with the design work they’ve been doing, they’re just not thrilled with the copywriting. They wanted me to take a look at the latest round of copy and see if I had any ideas. But, before I did, they gave me the deal on the situation. Get this…

They can only use a pre-approved list of words – no deviating. The middle management layers of approval have their own biases AND their own need to justify their existences by making changes or otherwise showing their disapproval. And after those managers are done, they’ve culled down the three concepts that the firm gives them to ONE, which is the one they have the agency creatively execute and then present to the top boss. ONE concept.

And gee, big surprise, he often isn’t nuts about it. Give someone ONE idea to choose from, and that’s a whole lot of pressure to like it. Give someone three to choose from, and even if you know which one you want them to choose, by having a few others there as “filler,”? you make it easier for the client to like yours. Of course, clients are notorious for turning that particular piece of logic on its head and loving one of the filler concepts. But hey, if they’re happy and we get paid, life could be a lot worse.

It was clear to me right from the get-go that the issue wasn’t the copy – it was fine. It was the process that was the issue – a process structured in such a way to make it nearly impossible for the agency to succeed.

And heck, for all we know, this account is one of those that likes to keep their vendors in a constant state of anxiety about their worth to the company. Praise ‘em too much and they might just start asking for more money. Keep convincing them that “you’re just not quite hitting the mark, but I guess we’ll go ahead and use your lame copy anyway…”? But seven years into the process, they’re still working for them, so maybe they don’t suck that badly after all…

As many of you know, this craziness is more common in Corporate America than most people would ever imagine. Well, needless to say, I said, “Pass.”? NOT interested in working under those circumstances. Feels good to say no sometimes.

What sorts of client/project situations do you run from?

How NOT to Build Customer Loyalty…

Last year, I leased a postage meter from the company that shares my initials. Their introductory special offer became more understandable after seeing the bloated prices they charged for supplies. Some time back, I started getting regular “Low Ink!” warnings on the meter. Their cost to replace the slightly-bigger-than-a-pack-of-Tic-Tacs-sized cartridge? $47 + $8.50 shipping (UPS Ground). 56 bucks. On a whim, I called my neighborhood Cartridge World (www.cartridgeworld.com), a low-cost, high-service, friendly cartridge refiller franchise (from Down Under, incidentally…). $28 refilled, drive-out price. But it gets better.

When I handed it over to the guy at CW, he started walking to the back of the store, then stopped, hefted it gently, and said, “This doesn’t feel empty.”? He knew exactly what it should weigh both full and empty, and a few moments later, he comes back: “It’s still about one-third to one-half full.” Nice. Thanks, guys.

Oh, and up yours, PB (them, PB, not me, PB), for hoping I’d just do as I was told and toss roughly $20-25 worth of ink and pony up another 56 clams. I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall at THAT meeting: “I know, we’ll set the machines to give premature low-ink warnings so we’ll increase ink sales by 37.56%! Wow, what a genius! Give him a raise!” Guess it never occurred to them that they’ve got competition on supplies, and even worse, honest folks who can bust them SO easily. Not smart. And now I’m writing about it. So they lose my supplies business along with that of probably a bunch of others, too.

P.S. I finally returned for a replacement cartridge nearly four months later.

P.P.S. When it came time to order mailing strips, THEY wanted over $80 for two boxes of double strips – delivered. Got the same thing from a competitor for $22 – to my door.

How do you make sure your copywriting clients keep coming back to you instead of going to the competition?