How Should You Respond to Dishonest Clients?

So here’s a difficult question I’ve been pondering for… oh… about the last four years.

Where does a copywriter’s responsibility end and a client’s responsibility begin?

In other words, how responsible am I for the things I write to sell a client’s product?

Here’s the thing…

As a freelance copywriter, I’m largely dependent on clients for the accuracy of my advertising. They tell me about their product… what makes it unique… how much it costs… and why they believe people should buy it.

I rely on the accuracy of the information the client provides (and the accuracy of my research) to write the most persuasive copy I can possibly write.

Trust is a key component of the client-freelancer relationship. I trust the client to provide me with accurate information; and the client trusts me to give my best effort to sell.

But along the way I’ve discovered that some clients are less honest than others.

For instance, I’ve known a client or two who has been willing to use fake scarcity to drive sales. They either falsify the number of units sold or the number of units available.

Either way, it’s a technique I’m not personally comfortable using… but at least two of my clients have had no qualms about it.

How responsible am I for that? And what should my response be once I discover what’s happening behind the scenes?

  • Confront the client?
  • Turn a blind eye?
  • Drop the client altogether?

One time, when I was asked to reduce the inventory counter by more units than we had actually sold, I pushed the issue.

“But we only sold X units, right?” I said.

“Yeah, I know I’m being dishonest,” he replied.

So I know from experience that some clients feel no remorse about telling “little white lies” if it drives more sales.

Me? I feel a pang of conscience every time I’m witness to such blatant manipulation. Yet I still don’t know exactly how to handle it.

Confrontation seems not to work. And the idea of firing a client over such tactics has at various times felt a bit like overkill, not to mention financial suicide. (Like everybody else, I have monthly bills to pay.)

My point in writing this is not necessarily to provide any clear-cut answers; it is to open up a dialogue and see what thoughts you have about this issue.

Because if you do any client work — especially in the field of advertising — chances are you will encounter some of the moral dilemmas I’ve alluded to here.

Would you do me a favor? Leave a comment below and let me know what you would do if you found yourself working with a client who was using dishonest marketing tactics. How would you react?


-Ryan M. Healy

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Ryan Healy

Ryan Healy is a freelance copywriter, list manager, and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like,, and

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