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Correcting Client Copy

Hey, there!

One of my favorite people in the world, and a VO2GoGo Pro member, Carol Herman, wrote me about a sometimes sticky issue: correcting the grammar in the scripts provided by our VO clients.

Here’s what she wrote.

David,

You get copy. Sometimes it is obviously written by non-English speakers and has its own problems, but sometimes it just “needs editing;” the sort my HS English teacher would have done.

Ex: “They want to see what it does to their life.” (their lives.)
“…to the person that does it best.” (who does it best.)

What’s the policy here? Follow the copy religiously–even with glaring grammatical errors? FIX those errors and then add a note to the client, explaining that you’ve done so? (Do you risk sounding exactly like your English teacher, and it really is NOT your business to edit–OR educate?)

Thanks.

Carol

So. What’s the secret to handling client writing mistakes?

First off, I’m a stickler, personally, for being correct. I don’t want my clients to sound stupid on the air or on the phone or wherever my voice is going to be heard. And in both of the cases you offer, I’d probably voice it correctly, but NOT write them a note about it, letting THEM tell ME I missed a word when they listened back, and THEN having the conversation. But that’s your cases. Others can be different.

The problem?

Advertising has had a long and illustrious history of playing with words and getting them wrong – on purpose.

A famous example is Apple’s positioning statement Think Different (versus the properly constructed Think Differently) – it just sounded better to the copywriters, and despite entire websites dedicated to the grammatical error in that slogan, Apple didn’t change it.

Here’s my rule of thumb: defend the success of your client’s campaign, but not at the expense of embarrassing the client.

As an example, I teach clients and students to watch for IVR copy that lists hours of operation from an opening time to a closing time as “Eastern/Central/Pacific Standard Time.” I drop the “Standard” (or “Daylight” if they use that) and write a gentle note explaining why I did it, like “…some nerd amongst your customer base is sure to point out that for six months out of the year, you’ll be technically wrong about your hours.”

I also make sure to correct copy that insists on spelling out URLs, when copywriters mistakenly use the word “backslash” (the “\” character) when they must use the word “slash” (the “/” character). And I don’t think a moment about offending the client by doing so.

Why?

Because a backslash used in a URL simply won’t work, and if the client wants to risk giving listeners or viewers a URL that won’t reach their product’s website if typed in to a browser verbatim, I’m going to help them not make that mistake. And I’ll be persistent about that, because it’s defending the success of their campaign.

Slight issues of grammar aren’t all that important to me if the conversational nature of the copy dictates to leave it alone. But if the copy is selling an intelligent product to intelligent people, I’ll probably help the client out and be gentle about informing them. I almost never mention it in auditions, because it’s not necessary. I’ll wait to get booked, and then diplomatically ask if they’re sure they want that wording.

Hope this helps.

David

7 Responses to Correcting Client Copy

  1. Darla Middlebrook November 11, 2015 at 7:19 am #

    I perform audio books. Often run across errors which turn out to be typos. I, however, always ALWAYS contact the author or rights holder regarding the “error/typo” to find out if the correction is wanted. In almost all cases the correction was needed and appreciated. There have been instances where the author is trying to be ungrammatical. In those cases I was glad I asked. I am not the author and do not know what the author “meant there”. I just narrate to the best of my ability.

  2. Andy Field November 11, 2015 at 7:51 am #

    I also will make corrections in an audition, if I can tell that it’s a typo. For example, yesterday I had an audition about “reducing IT sending.” I thought they meant “IT spending.” So I recorded it that way.

    In my mind, I picture the client listening to dozens of auditions, wondering why every single voice actor is saying it wrong, until they hear mine, and say, “Finally, someone who got it right!” It probably doesn’t happen that way, and I honestly could be wrong and they really do mean to reduce all of the sending that their IT departments do.

    In that case, I took a risk and it didn’t pay off. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I suppose.

  3. steve latham November 11, 2015 at 11:05 am #

    David I wanted to compliment you on your podcast ‘s.I alway’s enjoy the blogs as well.I’m at times a multitasker for better or worst.The audio frees me up.Great format !! Thank’s Steve

  4. Trevor November 11, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    Brilliant. Thanks!

  5. Lori J. Moran November 11, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    I also record audiobooks. I have had authors tell me -wow I can’t believe my editor missed that. The thing is, the editor is not reading the words out loud. When the text is read out loud, many missed words, grammatical errors etc. get picked up because it becomes obvious. I usually ask first though. I always want to make sure.

  6. Marlon Braccia November 11, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

    I think David himself instructed in class that if there is an obvious spelling error that makes the sentence ridiculous, just record it the right way, because it’s too time consuming to wait for the author to respond. In audiobooks in particular, time is money. So don’t be an editor, but do proofread.

    Is that an accurate gist of what you’ve taught, David?

  7. Craig Burnett November 17, 2015 at 7:34 am #

    Another spot-on set of tips, David. I, too, always correct the copy. It’s funny when revisions come in for other parts of the copy, and the writers have left the error in…I simply re-record with the correction, and have never had an issue.

    I always assume someone on the other end is saying, “Oh, duh…yeah…missed that one.”

    Recently I had the chance to visit with my high school technical grammar teacher, Mrs. Quaintance, 35 years after we last spoke. I told her I have used the things she taught me virtually every day of my career. It brought tears to her eyes. I told her it’s because of her that I get to be “right” so much of the time…she liked that.

    Excellent article, as usual!

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