Look! There she is, over there.
Your best copywriter.
No, not “best”. Best doesn’t really cover her sheer awesomeness.
She is your besterestically-best copywriter.
Crap brief? Doesn’t matter. She can either research it, figure it out, intuit it, or just charm the recalcitrant client, account director or product manager into providing one.
Vanishingly small deadline? She laughs in the face of collapsing time-windows (and of people who use phrases like “collapsing time windows”).
Print, mobile, ambient and native? Bring it on. She once wrote a multi-channel campaign while recovering from flu. And a hangover.
She’s a little … eccentric, sure. A bit like Abby in NCIS.
But when clients call you to ask for her mobile number so they can text her a personal thank you, well, that’s gold, right? Right?
But then, one night, you wake up in a flop sweat at 3.00 am. No, too much of a cliché. She’d never write that.
OK, you wake up at 2.57 am. Better.
What if she leaves? You know she had lunch with the ECD from those aggressive bastards down the road last month. Fuck!
Quick, think of something. How can we hold onto her?
And then, in a moment of complete clarity, you see what needs to be done.
You go in next morning and you promote her to head of copy. A team of five, her own office and responsibility for quality assurance, appraisals, recruitment, training and disciplinary hearings.
And the very same day she leaves you for the ABs down the road.
You total idiot!
You just made the biggest mistake you can ever make with a really good writer. You turned them into a manager.
Did you hire her because she had excellent people management skills? A familiarity with HR law and “best practice”? Was she a natural leader? Good with “difficult conversations”.
No. You hired her because her writing made you weep tears of pure, unalloyed excitement.
And you were frightened this job that she’d craved since she was six years old wouldn’t be enough for her?
OK. Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to come with me and we’re going to step into my time machine shaped like a large HB pencil. We’re going to whizz back to this morning.
And you’re going to do this.
You’re going to sit her down in your office and say:
“Hey Jeannie. You know you’re our best writer by a country mile. Well, we don’t want to lose you. Here’s another five grand a year, a bigger better desk, a nicer, comfier chair and a monthly tattoo allowance.”
Why is it we want to turn our best craftswomen and men into managers? (It’s not confined to writers, either. Engineers, designers, coders: we want them all to stay, so we give them jobs for which they are manifestly unsuitable.)
I suppose there are a couple of reasons
First, people, quite naturally, want to get ahead. So in a hierarchical organisation, by definition, that means promotion PLUS management responsibilities. There is no other option.
Second, we need managers. Either that or have a CEO with 30,000 direct reports.
Let’s look a little closer at the first reason.
WHY do people want to get ahead? Well, there’s the money, of course. The sense of self-worth and social status. And the feeling of progression. But are there other ways we can meet these needs other than promotion to management rank?
I think there are.
Money is easy. If someone is demonstrably better at a job than someone else, you simply pay them more. You can also pay bonuses to better people. It happens in sales all the time. If they are better now than they were a year ago and are doing better work you can pay them more. If their work brings in more kudos, clients or cash to your agency/company, you can pay them more.
How about self-worth and social status? It’s surprising what a healthy dollop of extra cash can do to ameliorate this problem. However, in a money-shy culture like that in the UK, there are other ways to show how someone is doing. The aforementioned bigger desk being one trivial example. A trip to the Monaco Grand Prix might do it for some, or a private dining room at Le Gavroche.
Without wishing to contribute to job title inflation, you could easily develop a set of hierarchical job titles that reflect seniority, status and skill but not management rank. Junior, senior, executive and eleveé en corps des ecrivistes diplomatiques might do it.
Progression? Getting the chance to work on bigger accounts or more prestigious projects is a massive sign that you are moving onto bigger and better things. As is being included in client meetings or other important events.
In short, the way to keep your copywriters (and keep them happy) is to leave them to do the thing they love and reward them for doing it well.