I was having a browse on the internet the other day and came across a blog post by dorisandbertie.com that made me smile.
It wasn’t because it was exceptionally well written (although it is), it’s not because it was about the latest marketing revelation; no, it was because I found myself nodding and agreeing with every word that was written.
I’ve been working as a freelance copywriter since 2007, and it still amazes me when I have to explain to someone what I do. Especially, that writing is only a very small part of it. And that, no, I’m not a magician who can conjure mind-blowing copy from a budgie-smuggler brief (i.e. one with no substance whatsoever).
A copywriter has to wear many hats (especially if they are freelance and therefore also a business owner) and their post takes you on a tour of the many facets of a copywriter, looking at eight possible answers to the question: “what is a copywriter” – here’s what they had to say (slightly shortened):
1. A copywriter is a thinker
‘Thinker’ is the answer that immediately springs to mind, because it’s what I spend most of my day doing.
When you hire a copywriter, you’re not just hiring a word monkey. You’re hiring someone to think through a business problem. The solution to that problem just happens to take the form of words.
It’s the copywriter’s job to help a client think through challenges like these. To be strategic.
- Who are we trying to reach with our words?
- What’s the objective here?
- What will chime with this audience?
- What’s relevant and what’s not?
- And where does it all fit in with everything else we’re saying?
The next step is to sit back and listen to the answers, which brings me to…
2. A copywriter is a listener
A written brief is important, but it’s really the copywriter’s job to get their clients to talk. Because something remarkable happens when people talk.
Ask a client to write down what they want to say and they get all self-conscious and ‘writerly’. Which in a business context means they produce joyless drivel about ‘driving truly global platforms of excellence across all our key markets’.
But get them to talk and you get stories. Wonderful turns of phrase. Evidence that the speaker really does love what they do. Really does care about the message they want to get out there.
So if you want to be a copywriter, just listen.
3. A copywriter is an empathiser
A big part of the ‘thinking’ process is empathising with your reader. Putting yourself in their shoes. Seeing the world through their eyes.
Again, it’s about knowing what’s relevant and what will resonate. What you can assume they know and what you might need to explain. All things many non-writers struggle with.
You may have heard the (slightly jargony phrase) ‘outside-in-thinking’. It’s a term business strategists use to describe the process of viewing your business as the customer views it.
A copywriter’s job is to apply outside-in-thinking to an organisation’s comms. Which is why it can be particularly powerful to hire an external writer to bring a fresh eye to things.
4. A copywriter is a persuader
Yep, let’s not forget the point of all this thinking, listening and empathising: getting someone to do something.
You might be persuading your employees to change the way they do things. Getting people to buy your product. Or convincing that investor to come on board.
Every successful piece of business writing has a clear desired outcome – i.e. persuading your reader to act.
5. A copywriter is a musician
Finally, we get to the actual words. A great copywriter writes with her ears, not her eyes. She brings to every piece a little bit of rhythm, some artful repetition and words that capture the cadences of the spoken word. Or, rather, the spoken word improved.
6. A copywriter is a compromiser (sometimes)
A famous general once said ‘no plan survives first contact with the enemy’. The copywriter’s version? No first draft survives contact with the client.
Invariably, the first casualty is the rhythm. Hey ho.
7. A copywriter is not a fantasist
I’m sure I’m not the only copywriter who’s had a client ask: ‘could you just make something up for us at that bit?’.
While copywriting requires some creativity, there are limits. We don’t pull ideas out of nowhere.
But we will listen. And probe. And find out what you really want to say at ‘that bit’. Or whether you need to say anything at all.
8. A copywriter is not a grammar fascist
If you’re a stickler for the rules of grammar, become a proofreader. If you’re looking for someone to police your documents for non-adherence to those rules, hire one.
But your copywriter, while they know and care about the rules, has bigger fish to fry than whether that infinitive should remain split.
And they’re happy to play fast and loose with the rules of grammar, if doing so furthers an aim or makes better music. I’m sure this post has made some poor pedant’s eyes bleed somewhere.
Thanks for sharing this guys – it really does sum up beautifully, the lot of a copywriter.