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What Copywriters Can Do With Good Work That Was Never Used

Aug 17, 2007
Freelancers who are trying to build their portfolios occasionally asked me, "What can I do with good work that was never used?"

The good news is, you should use it in your portfolio, if it's work you're proud of. Marketing professionals are used to seeing work in all of its stages, and as long as your sample is "perfect," your prospect will see its potential and value.

In an ad agency, the copywriter's work is called a "copy deck" and when printed out, it builds thicker with each revision. When most of the changes are made, it then goes to the art director, and the work becomes a "copy proof." At this stage there are final copy edits, art direction edits, and refinements from others such as the creative director and production.

If your work sample got to this stage, it should be as impressive as any work that actually did get published. Most likely, at this stage, you're working in PDFs.

If you have PDFs of art-finished work, so much the better. But if your work did not get to the art direction stage, and all you have is a copy deck, that's fine too.

Whereas the PDF samples mask the fact that the work was not used, the copy deck reveals it. In either case you would want to explain to your prospective client that the work did not mail (or go "live," or get printed), and explain the reason why, if you know what it is.

There's no shame in good work that never saw the light of day, because there are many reasons why good work gets "killed."

Not long ago I wrote a fundraising letter for the YMCA. It was targeting the wealthy "snowbirds" who come to the Palm Springs resort areas to play during the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament, and the tennis stadium events as well.

Like the many people who live in this area, where the temperature gets up to 120 in the summer, our target audience would be at their winter homes for only a few months.

Well, due to no fault of my own, the YMCA missed its window for mailing. So the project was shelved for "next year."

But by the time next year rolled around, the old marketing director was gone, and so was the possibility that my work would ever get printed and mailed.

Do I list the YMCA on my web site as a client? You bet!

I did other paid work for them, but I'm most proud of the piece that didn't mail because they gave me full reign to create the piece I wanted; it shows what I can do when the client backs off.

If a potential fundraising client came my way, I would not hesitate to show my work for the YMCA, and tell them a more entertaining story about why it didn't mail than the one I've told you. The lesson here is to turn lemons into lemonade...

Jobs get killed all the time (clients run out of money, new competitive information pulls the plug on an idea, a national disaster changes the marketing landscape)...

And a seasoned creative director or marketing director knows this. Tell them why it didn't mail, unabashedly. Be confident, even a little conspiratorial. Everyone loves a good story. And the story about the mailing that didn't mail, or the brochure that didn't get published, or the web site that didn't go up, has power.

Use it to your advantage, rather than your disadvantage.
About the Author
Master copywriter and coach Chris Marlow publishes a free ezine for copywriters who want to quickly build a profitable business. Visit: FreelancersBusinessBulletin
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