A Copywriter’s Tale
When I find myself in a group of strangers, soon after I introduce myself, the question pops:
So what do you do for a living?
And this is the easy part of the question. A good friend of mine used to say that “if what you do for a living cannot be explained in one word, this word being your job title, then people often think what you do is not important enough”
I belong to the category of people who hear the aforementioned question twice; the first time before you tell people what you do, the second time immediately after that.
So what do you do for a living?
Being a copywriter, I constantly face that hard part, along with faces mirroring a mixture of curiosity, suspicion, doubt and awe before the unknown.
The easy way to explain what a copywriter does is to declare you are a storyteller.
Again, most people will think of Homer, the brothers Grimm or Steven Spielberg.
Albeit being a storyteller aka copywriter is not far from that, I feel I need to give some more insight in order to verify no one will remain puzzled or confused about what I do.
So what I usually do next is say that I write stories and texts that help products and services sell more, by making people take action.
Suddenly, they feel accomplished for having met the guy behind the shampoo ingredients they have to read when they forget to take their Smartphone in the bathroom.
But copywriting is so much more than that.
That is why I sympathize with all content creators.
A copywriter’s work is often underestimated, and the irony is that the better a copy is, the harder it is for someone to understand how much effort it took.
A basic principle of copywriting is that if your content sounds like writing, you must rewrite it.
The words should easily flow, as if read out loud, in a speaking manner.
Given the storytelling character of copywriting, you often write like you talk. Therefore, the catchier a text or a phrase is, the more difficult it is for an external observer to assess how hard the process that led to that result was.
Think about the Nike motto “Just do it”. It’s just three words. It’s three words we have been using every day, in the same arrangement, for a variety of purposes. Yet it is one of the most well known mottos and is inexorably connected with Nike and all the brand represents.
Some might say it was luck or accident, or the first three words that came to the copywriter’s mind. Trust me, even if they were, one hundred or more were jotted down, read out loud, read in a whispering tone, reviewed and rejected.
What I actually want to say is that the copywriter spends endless hours researching.
After that, he writes and rewrites until he believes he has achieved the optimum result.
The greatest part of my effort is really hard to evaluate, because it is a mixture of my experiences, my education and the huge research I feel obliged to do in order to deliver a copy I am proud of.
Sometimes I feel tempted to say that perhaps copywriters are writers who are too lazy to work as real writers.
Part of that is true. A copywriter is actually a writer, a microwriter I dare say, and we love to think of ourselves as such, demanding the respect and tranquility an acclaimed writer would enjoy.
Still, I cannot say we are lazy. I mean anyone can be lazy, but a copywriter has to meet standards and deadlines that are tighter than a writer’s –at least a renowned one’s.
Besides that, copywriting is much more than squeezing words together.
It’s also not about writing what I want or my company wants, it is about tailoring content to help our audiences meet their particular goals. I have to delve into both my employer’s and their customers’ minds. And I am not a psychic.
Also, in the process of producing a good copy, you will struggle with your client’s or your employer’s inability to express what they actually want.
You are obliged to write ten different versions in order to make sure one might be close to the result they have in mind. Oh and the result they have in mind often drives you mad because it lacks imagination, insight, marketing instinct, fun or even relativity to the brand’s identity and spirit.
As a copywriter, I am often regarded as an introvert worker, who likes isolating himself in a snobbish manner. The truth is far from that. Copywriters are team players, and have to work as a team, in a team.
First of all, a copywriter needs to gather information about the subject the copy is going to be about. Then he has to discuss ideas about what to write and how he thinks of writing it with marketers, business developers.
If visual content is concerned, the copywriter has to sit and work along with the artists, exchange ideas, views and blend words with pictures.
The copywriter has to be creative not only in the way he handles words, but also in the way his words become pictures in the mind, as well as in the way pictures in the eye mingle with words that reverberate in the mind.
So at my work I have to collaborate with other people and share my thoughts with theirs in order to end up producing a result that will be appealing to the eye and the brain.
The hard thing is that I am required to be as much a designer and a marketer as the people who actually are.
But it is part of the fascinating role I have to, and like to play. Being a team player is essential for me and I regard it as an integral part of our profession. We need isolation as much as anyone else (and certainly less than a web developer who struggles coding listening to weird music on his headphones) but we need to be team players more than anyone.
If we fail to express the collective thought of different people and teams working towards the same goal, we fail all of them and their toil. Could you ever live with this? I couldn’t.
Part of the game of being a copywriter has to do with acknowledgement.
They say that a company will never be interested in what I do, but only in how what I will write makes them look, sound and feel addressing their audience.
This might be translated as no acknowledgement for those of us who regard ourselves as artists.
Nevertheless, we pride ourselves on being multi-taskers, mind readers, deadline beaters and word jugglers.
When we deliver the desired result, we should feel fulfillment, for we have mastered a series of demanding roles. The demanding roles I mentioned above.
Thus, every time someone praises your writing, it is a dozen values of yours that are being praised for doing the best.
Moreover, every time your work is being recognized, your copy speaks for all those who sacrificed their time, their grey cells, their patience, their creativity and their nervous systems in order to conclude to what you put on paper-or on screen.
So take pride in what you do, fellow copywriters.
Be passionate and proud of what you have written; be eager to deliver even more.
Be a team player. Ask for help and offer as much as you can. Give double the credit you receive.
Write all the time.
Get stuck. Get lazy. Undergo writer’s block. That’s how you’ll write all the time.
Never tolerate those who undervalue you. Remember that you are the most possible person to underestimate the value of what you do.
Inspiration can be drawn from anything: from a poem to a television quote to absolute silence; or utter havoc.
And, of course:
Never stop learning. Ever.