“I’m judging a lot more than wins and losses.”

And with that, the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA) fired his head coach.

To bring you up to speed, in case pro basketball isn’t your thing, the Cavaliers currently have the best record in their conference.

The team, led by LeBron James, is the biggest draw in a sports-obsessed city. Cleveland hasn’t won a championship in any sport for 50+ years.

Which puts a whole lotta pressure on the ownership to produce. Anything less than hoisting a trophy in June is failure.

“Over the course of my business career I have learned that sometimes the hardest thing to do is also the right thing to do,” said the billionaire owner of the Cavs, who OK’d the coach’s firing.

As the GM explained at the press conference, “pretty good” wasn’t good enough.

Hard choices.

Calculated risk.

Goin’ for broke.

With sports, it’s easy to see that if one team WINS, the other necessarily LOSES.

It’s a zero-sum game, and losing is personal. It burns DEEP.

Now obviously, running a growing business is different from winning a game. Heck, even the business of sports is a different bird.

But still, from what I see, there’s not enough corporate marketers who embrace the Cavs GM’s zero-sum attitude:

“If someone else is winning, then we’re losing!”

Who’s to blame?

What I mean is, for the marketing director, “pretty good” is good enough. If they’re making money, good enough. If they’re getting a ROI (no matter how piddling), good enough. If they’re middle-of-the-pack, good enough. Quite honestly, I don’t blame marketing bosses.

I blame my fellow copywriters.

Huh? What? Blame the copywriter… who, in most corporate marketing departments, is two rungs above slave status???


Here’s why. The buck STARTS with them.

They’re the ones tasked with developing the concept… shaping the company’s tone… and suggesting the medium for the message.

And what about the actual message? For whatever reason — distractions, talent limitations, inadequate research — too many copywriters fail to create bullet-proof messages.

Bullet-proof messages are:

  • Reasonable but novel
  • Structured but loose
  • Intelligent but approachable

In short, they’re hard to tamper with.

So inevitably, when the boss takes a scalpel to their work or changes the format, the message still (mostly) shines through.

On the other hand, when they don’t put in the time to craft a bullet-proof message, the copy is expendable. It will undergo endless revisions via “copy by committee.”

The result might be better or worse. Either way it’ll be radically different.

Naturally, the copywriter will bear the brunt of the manager’s anger if the campaign flops. The manager will wonder why he or she even has a copywriter on staff!

That’s when lesser copywriters resort to the “pretty good” excuse:

“Whitepaper downloads are declining across the board, so we did pretty good.”

“Nobody watches long-form videos today, so we did pretty good.”

“Product catalogs are a money loser, so we did pretty good.”

The excuses may hold some validity, based on the law of averages. But are you fine with average? Will that put money in your bank account?

Obviously not. So it comes down to this: if you have an ambitious goal for your product or company, you have to judge it by meaningful metrics.

Improving those metrics, whatever they are, will come down to taking copy risks. Swinging rather than swaying. Going here, not there. Up vs down. You have to give your copywriters freedom. If they aren’t up to the task, find ones who are.

The reason is that it’s just too easy to draw the wrong conclusions when comparing yourself favorably with competitors. Put another way, as the Cavs GM said:

“Winning masks a lot of problems”

If your copy is not…

  • affecting your best prospects
  • distinguishing your products and services
  • convincing prospects to confide in you
  • reassuring, persuading, or even repelling

Then it’s not good enough.

With friends like these…

Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of well-meaning colleagues, peers, and friends will commend “pretty good” copy efforts. Heck, you might even win an advertising award. But the kudos are coming from people on the outside looking in. They’re like a Vegas bookie making playoff predictions based on a team’s record, while ignoring player injuries and individual matchups.

What nobody will see is the drop-off point in your copy where prospects leave. Like a GM detecting the first trace of indifference in the locker room, YOU have to address the root problem before planning the championship parade.

Once that’s done, you have to fire the “pretty good” copy. That’s the copy that relies on cliches, trite writing formulas, and predictable outlines. Prospects take one glance, view, or listen to this kind of copy and bounce. Get rid of it, unapologetically.

Make room in your marketing campaigns for all-star copy. Give your copywriters the structure and freedom to produce it. Add time. Celebrate the victory.

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