The conversation was going well. We felt like we were connecting at the same level. The prospect had gotten to know me and appeared to feel great about my understanding of his process, goals, etc.
Then came the question. I’ve received it many times before.
“Do you have any experience in our industry?”
Years ago, this question might have flustered me or made me apologetic sounding. But with time comes perspective. And confidence that this shouldn’t matter. At all.
“No. I never have worked in your business. Frankly, for your business, I’m not even sure I know many people who would. It’s a narrow niche. But even if I did work in your business previously, it wouldn’t mean much.”
He was surprised by the honesty. But it’s the truth, which is: If push comes to shove and you can only choose one of the following two options, you should hire a writer with big talent who knows little about your industry versus a writer who has written for dozens of companies in your industry but limited talent in that he can’t write in a conversational manner toward other humans to save his life.
I have been a writer for 25 years. More often than not, I knew next to nothing about the industry I was about to write for. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
See, this comes with the territory of being a Copywriter. You don’t come in as an expert, whether you’re at an agency or on your own. You’re totally clueless, which is actually a good thing here. Why? Your mind is empty, waiting to be filled with knowledge – pounds of paper worth of knowledge and digital files aplenty. You take the “factory tour” whether it’s literally a factory or an office. You meet the people. You learn the processes. You absorb the history and appreciate where these folks have been as well as the passion behind the product or service they sell.
Maybe that’s a good thing, no? That you’re talking to someone with a blank slate, who asks questions rather than makes assumptions? Someone who treats your business as the only one of its kind in the world and doesn’t try to use a template based on someone else’s business?
That’s why I don’t buy the whole “you should hire us because we know your business” play that brand and content specialists try to make.
If you’re in this category of agency, I hate to break it to you but you don’t own that like you think you do.
Non-specialists can get up to speed quickly on their business and the best ones will. Again, it’s been a way of life for me for a little over two decades. You think I walked in the door knowing about mutual funds, commercial wire, medical devices and Sheetrock? Give me a break.
So when you’re considering hiring an agency, listen good for what they’re going to do for YOUR business. Not all the things they did for other people that they’ll probably apply to you, intentionally or subconsciously.
You have your own history.
Your own goals.
Your own diverse set of people.
Your own leadership team.
Your own products and services.
Your own culture.
Your own kind of ideal clients.
Therefore, no matter who you hire, you need to demand that your agency understands that. And by the way, showing up with a giant menu of all the things they do isn’t conveying a damn thing about understanding.
One more thing: You also need to demand that there’s a chemistry there. Be honest: It’s just us. Do you actually LIKE them? If not, who gives a crap who they’ve worked with. They’re going to be a pain in the ass to work with and make your life hell. And maybe you’ll be the same to them.
On the other hand, if you click like magic with someone, there’s a reason for that. Don’t ignore it. Don’t think it as a nice-to-have extra. It’s big. And if that person has the energy and track record to match, you’ll likely have a very enjoyable long-term relationship.
OK, NOW I have just one more thing. I know specialists. Plenty of them. And to distinguish them from the ones I’ve referred to (and possibly to prevent myself from getting punched in the face by any of them when I run into them), I will have you know that not one of them that I respect rests on the laurels of industry experience alone. They are passionate about customizing. They’re smart as hell. They believe in strategy over tactics. They’re genuinely understanding. And they have a system for success that just works. I would recommend any one of them wholeheartedly. Because while they know “the business,” it’s what they know about marketing that they bring together that makes them extraordinary.
So maybe I know your business. Maybe I don’t. Or maybe I’ve worked with a close enough cousin of an industry. But there are other ingredients you really need to factor in anyway.
Can’t get past that? Well, golly. I’d say you’re playing it safe, but if industry experience is the only real criteria you’re going on, it’s more like you’re playing it stupid.