A Tale of Two Tailors

Theatrical costume is one of my sidelines. I'm handy with a needle and thread, and I've a modest collection of vintage sewing-machines. I've had the good fortune, partly in connection with this interest, to be able to discuss the tailoring trade with some of its more and less distinguished professionals.

The tailor produces good work because he cares about integrating two things above all; that his customer should be well dressed, and that his customer should look himself. Walk into a good tailor's shop, and when you walk out again you should look the same, only better. It helps, therefore, when the customer already has a strong sense of his own style; the good tailor works with that, to produce something that enhances the customer's own style.

As a long term relationship develops between tailor and customer, the customer's style will inevitably evolve, along with his experience, his tastes, and his body. The tailor will attempt to guide the customer towards what is, in his opinion, good taste, without infringing the customer's view of his own style and personality. Consequently, the customer's wardrobe changes as a delicate synergy of customer and tailor.

A tailor's definition of 'well dressed' is always "wearing one of our suits". A tailor cares about fashion only as much as his customer does. A tailor cares about creating the right impression only as much as his customer does. The only thing that the tailor cares more about than his customer is the quality of materials and workmanship. The customer need not know about either of these, assuming correctly that they will be taken care of by the tailor.

Nonetheless, there are customers who come in asking for the "latest thing"; asking for something that will "knock-out the ladies" or "blow the lads away" or "make me look like a gent". If the customer smells of money, the tailor won't mind too much, and if the quality of his work is appreciated, the tailor can turn a blind eye to the emptyness of the style.

However, he will always try to guide the customer to something that will suit him. Something that will enhance his natural qualities, rather than try to give him qualities that he does not have.

It isn't easy to write empty commercial twaddle. Badly written empty commercial twaddle is however often indistiguishable from the skillfully written variety due to the sheer emptyness. Our culture has helpfully provided us with the story of the Emperor's New Clothes and somehow we don't apply its lesson where we should.

The company that goes to a PR or marketing consultant generally expects the consultant to research the market and produce copy that reflects the market's expectations. This is fine, but most companies have real differentiators; their products and services have features that make them a better or worse choice, or a better or worse match, to any given potential customer.

All too often the product or company's character is hidden behind market buzzwords - whatever the current fad may be - and potential customers can neither choose between, nor even remember who is who.

Like a good tailor, the commercial writer should understand and communicate what makes the personal style and character of the company he writes for. He should take care to employ quality language with skill and discretion - the latter so that he does not allow his personal tastes to influence his work too much - and produce copy that characterizes the company by accentuating its best qualities and enhancing its personal style.

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