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Must copywriters show our faces?

Do white paper copywriters have to do video interviews?

Do we have to show our faces to the marketing managers who hire us?

Or to the SMEs we interview? Even when we’re working remotely and will never meet in person?

photo of black maskI got that question recently from a writer with a pressing reason to ask.

Experienced copywriter JM (not his real initials) was involved in a car accident that left his face permanently disfigured.

When he tried to get back to work, applying for jobs he was well-qualified for, interviewers told him things like “you wouldn’t fit in here.”

So he went freelance to work from his home office. But he’s still worried about doing face-to-face interviews, either in person or through video.

Not the only reason

There are other legitimate reasons why a copywriter might not want to hop on a video call with a client:

  • You don’t know how and you’re worried about flubbing it
  • You’re embarrassed because your office is a mess—and whose isn’t?
  • You find video calls distract from the business conversation you want to have
  • You dislike the herky-jerky audio and frequent dropped calls
  • One of your favorite perks of freelancing is not having to dress up and do hair and makeup every morning

I can relate, believe me.

So here are some tips for any copywriter who doesn’t want to do video Skypes with clients.

Tip #1: A writer is judged on their words, not their appearance 

Any business person worth their salt looks at what a writer can do for their business… not their appearance.

If their work is effective, that’s all that really matters.

This is one reason why I like being a writer. If I had to make it on “good looks” I wouldn’t make it very far. 

Tip #2: No one looks fabulous in a tiny on-screen window 

When I write for Google, my contacts often want to do a Google Hangout. I’m not sure why.

The garish green lights in people’s offices, the background clutter, and the too-faraway or too-close faces make everyone look less than wonderful.

I’ve watched older SMEs hunch over their desks so all anyone can see is their bald crowns. 

The point is, most people don’t look their best in a 2-inch window on the screen.

Tip #3: Show a still image during video calls

One of my favorite clients never shows her face. If her colleagues request a video call, she puts up a still image of a landscape with her name on it.

She uses the same image for LinkedIn and Facebook.

It’s a viable idea: If you must Skype with a client, click on the phone icon, not the video. That way you can show a still image instead of your face, perhaps a shelf of books or anything else that conveys the idea that you’re a wordsmith.

Tip #4: Steer clients away from video calls

I figure I’ve interviewed at least 3,000 business people over the years. And I have to tell you, only a tiny handful of those were through in person or through video calls. Maybe 25 or 30. That’s 1%… not a very frequent occurrence.

I dislike doing video interviews to gather detailed content for several reasons:

  • I want to concentrate on what they’re telling me, not a laggy image of their face
  • My clients get nothing from watching my head down as I type 
  • A video call is harder to record (I bought special software just to record Skype conversations)
  • A video recording makes a gigantic file that may not fit on your iPad or mobile phone, so it’s less portable than an audio file

Whenever a client requests a video conference, I simply say, “I’d prefer to do a regular phone call, so I can focus better. With your permission, I’d like to record our conversation to make sure I get everything right. Doing a regular phone call helps me do my best work for you.”

I’ve never gotten any argument. 

Tip #5: Glam out and get a fabulous photo

For those rare occasions when you simply can’t avoid doing a Skype, consider getting a really good photo.

An experienced portrait photographer can create a flattering shot of just about anyone.

The proper hair, makeup, background, and lighting can make most people look fabulous.

How do you think movie stars look so good?

They have professional stylists doing their hair, makeup and wardrobe. Numerous people fuss over them for hours before the cameras start to roll.

Go all out, just once, and get a fantabulous photo taken. Then use that as a still image for all your video calls for the next few years.

What do you think? Do you avoid Skyping with clients? Do you have a tip to add to this list? Please leave a comment below.

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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  1. Sandra on June 3, 2015 at 11:25 am

    That’s a tough one and very saddening to hear.

    Thanks to technology, JM and those of us who hate taking pictures or being on video – myself included – have these options.

    My go-to is #3: use a still image. Can’t go wrong with that, as long as it’s appropriate for the call.

    Question for JM: would he feel comfortable posting a still of himself before the accident? Would that help/work/make any sense?

    I also try to push clients away from video and so far it’s been easy because most of them use their own conference/audio resources, so everyone can hear everything, but we don’t have to see each other 🙂

    Great post!

  2. Clarke Echols on June 3, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    One of the problems in today’s society is an extreme proliferation of options as new technologies emerge, and social media become ever more rampant.

    Which leads to the necessary brick wall of, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” The idea that video eliminates the need for white papers assumes “facts” about human behavior that, on closer inspection, turn out to be untrue.

    It isn’t helped by societal obsession over photoshopped glamor and equating celebrity and “good looks” with competence, knowledge, and expertise while forgetting that an ex is a has-been, and a spurt is a drip under pressure.

    I really like using a good telephone headseat, and have little interest in video conferencing because I too prefer focus without distraction. I still don’t have recording set up, but that’s on my list of high-priority wants.

    “Experts” say your profile photo should have a smile, but that guy named Graham, along with Bob Bly, Clayton Makepeace, Dan Kennedy, and others of unquestionable competence seem to do just fine with a straight face.

    But for now, I consider video a don’t care. Give me useful information in video conferences if you insist, but otherwise, don’t sweat it.


  3. Jonathan on June 3, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Another reason to avoid video calls … Racial bias. It’s a sad fact that bigotry is alive and well. I’ve experienced it first-hand on too many occasions. Although I was born and raised in Canada to Canadian and American parents, and although English is my mother tongue, I look like I’m from India or the middle East. Some sorry people see that as a negative, raising doubts about my proficiency as an English writer. Since most of my clients are Canadian and American, I prefer voice-only calls where I sound as white as the next guy.

    • Gordon Graham on June 4, 2015 at 12:19 am

      See Nan’s comment below. Shame on the bigots!

  4. npdevlin on June 3, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    I don’t like video conferencing either, because it often fails or is not compatible, so you waste a lot of time getting and staying connected. I haven’t seen many of my clients (even one I’ve been working with for 11 years) – and some of them are in my hometown of Portland. I often say to clients that a phone conference call is preferable – I can record, type and listen without the distracting visuals. “Just say “sorry, Skype is on the blink”. And yes there is a lot of discrimination (and shame on them): age, gender, skin color, size, looks, etc. Just do good work.

    • Gordon Graham on June 4, 2015 at 12:18 am

      Shame on them, indeed! Anyone who would judge a creative supplier by their looks and not their work is likely not effective in their role. And probably wasting a lot of company money!

  5. Danil on June 4, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    Thank you Gordon for writing this, and the comments are spot on too. I’ve been hesitant to contact certain companies for this very reason, video conference or chat. Ugh.

    Judge my work on its own merits, not if I’m this, that or the other. Whew, thought I was the only person not using video.

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