Three years in the life of a copywriter
…Crikey. I only popped in for a cup of tea and a chat, suddenly it’s 2017 and I’ve been punching keyboards at Sookio for the last three years. As the agency’s ninth birthday rolls around, I figured I’d tap out some thoughts on where we’ve come from, where we’re going, and what I’ve picked up on the way.
What is the job of a copywriter?
The short answer is ‘the copywriter is the guy who writes the things.’ I’m more of a digital type of guy, so for me, the things could include:
- Web or app copy
- Ongoing content like blogs
- Social media posts
- Video scripts
- Branding guidance
- Fortune cookies
- Voodoo curses
In other words, anything that’s going to be read by your audience, customers, victims, or clients should ideally pass through the hands of a copywriter.
I cover the major reasons for this in another blog; why you should trust your creative agency, but basically, there’s a huge difference between writing at people and writing for them. A good copywriter will know that difference.
Writing at an audience might make an impact, it might even cut through the noise and get their attention. But writing for an audience will bring them on board. It’ll inform, convince, inspire, and, ultimately, convert them.
Good writing can shock, appal and entice. But good copywriting can sell.
Where does a copywriter slot in?
I can, and have, come on board with projects at any stage. Sometimes all the strategy and planning has been completed by the time I even get wind of a job. A brief just lands on my desk telling me, ‘write the thing.’ I then write the thing and everyone cheers.
However, I tend to find it’s more effective when everyone gets involved as early as possible. A collaborative approach lets everyone have a say on where and how their impact can be maximised. It also lets a team come together and learn from one another, rather than just functioning like an assembly line.
Now, that sounds a bit happy-clappy, but let me give an example. I’m a long-form copy geek, never happier than when I’m sat hammering out another thousand-word magnum opus on the topic of pheasant farming or divorce law or something.
However, I’m also grizzled and cynical enough to know that getting people to take time out of their days to read something long is a big ask. So, by working with a digital strategist and social media bod, we can come up with a natural stream of content, with social and email marketing steering the audience towards that final big sell which gets them to convert.
Think of it like a boxer, dancing around the opponent and testing them with jabs, controlling the ring and guiding them to that knockout blow. You don’t have that degree of control unless everyone is working in tandem.
What have I learned so far?
When I came on board with Sookio in 2014, we were squatting in a little office out in the Fens, writing blogs about model trains for 50p and a Snickers apiece. Today, we’re sat in the heart of Cambridge offering all sorts of goodies to heavy-hitting international brands.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t cool to have been a small part of that, and to have learned bags of stuff along the way. Pre-Sookio, my commercial copywriting background was exclusively in printed B2C stuff, so getting my head around SEO was like learning to walk again.
If you pressed me for three key takeaways, one for each year of my tenure, I’d run with these:
Never try to second-guess the client: If it’s in the brief, I’ll write it. If it’s not, I’ll trust my experience and judgement. Trying to read a client’s mind and come up with something to appease them is only likely to get work torn apart by committee, or, worse still, the client will love it but it won’t perform in the marketplace, so their money has been wasted.
Marketing copy isn’t about intuition, there’s a whole industry built around proving what works and what doesn’t. I will always do my best to give clients the best work first time. It’s up to them what they do to it from there.
Write only what works: Projects with a lot of scope can be dangerous. You come up with a thousand ideas, run with the ones you find most interesting, then wonder why you’re the only one getting excited in the later stages.
Hold your horses. Research the areas of a topic which the audience finds most interesting. Find out what questions they’re googling and craft content to answer those questions, even if they’re maybe not the ones which immediately fire your imagination. Speaking of which…
There are no boring topics: B2B copywriting is an unending drudge of faceless services selling services to services selling services, devoid of all humanity and passion… if you let it be.
If someone, somewhere, didn’t care about what you’re writing, you wouldn’t be getting paid to write it. Find that person, and if you can’t find them, invent them. Write them a love letter, speak to their soul, soothe their worldly problems. Think of it like weight training, if you can make box assembly machines or income tax sound sexy, you’ll be ready to make your next ‘fun’ brief sound like the word of God.