25 July 2006


Maybe it's the heat or something, but suddenly the business forums I network on have been hit by a rash of wannabe copywriters. One of them said he was bored with his job in a large organisation, wanted to become self-employed, and decided on copywriting because he thought he could have a crack at it and earn lots of money!

Well, you can, but copywriting is not just for anyone. It's a skill. Being good at English when you were at school, for example, doesn't mean you'll be any good as a copywriter. You need talent to write well and it needs to be honed. It's not just about "writing stuff". If it was, everyone would be a blockbuster novelist!

Copywriting is about writing in way that entices people - to buy, to enquire, to take action... It's not particularly easy. I should know - it's a large part of what I do. Sometimes I can spend ages staring at a brief, while I try to figure out what to say and how to say it. Then polish it and polish it again. And keep polishing it until it's perfect. It's actually pretty damn hard to find the right words to convey a complex message concisely and clearly. It can be an agonisingly slow process at times, although fortunately, at others, it comes quickly and easily. I guess it's a bit like writing computer coding. Either you can do it or you can't. It's not for everyone. I couldn't write computer code, but I can write quality English.

Copywriting is not the same as journalism either. Journalism also requires good writing skills but of a different kind. It's probably easier to blag a career as a journalist if you can write reasonably well, but you still won't "make it" unless you have something to say that people want to hear. And you can be a journalist and still write lousy English - when I worked as a sub-editor for various magazines in London some 15 years ago, we were the unsung heroes of journalists: correcting their spelling, punctuation and grammar, rewriting large chunks of their copy, cutting out the waffle, shuffling paragraphs so the article would flow better...

These editorial tasks have to be done by the copywriter, because no one else will do it for them. Copywriters don't have editors to clean up their mistakes, so they'd better have good editorial skills too if they wannabe. A case in point - one of my current clients had previously used a marketing agency to produce some exhibition banners. There, in foot-high letters, in the middle of the banner was the word "industirial"...

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