When I tell people I’m a copywriter, the most common response is 'a what now?' Those who do recognise the title tend to associate it with Mad Men’s Don Draper, which, aside from the philandering, love of whiskey, brooding silences and suave demeanour, couldn’t be further from the reality. So, what does a copywriter’s role entail? I suppose the quick answer is, to tell the story of a brand or product, one that will make even the most mundane of subjects seem captivating.
Now I know what you’re thinking, isn’t that just writing content? Sure, there are overlaps, but a copywriter doesn’t simply produce content that builds on an existing brand, they actually shape and mould the identity of a business.
A blog post allows for room to go off at tangents, exploring themes in detail, but the strapline for your next product launch does not, which is why every word has to be carefully chosen by the copywriter to simultaneously convey the message, the tone of voice and a sense of urgency.
Two very different disciplines, then. But what lessons can the content writer learn from their more clinical cousin?
1. Write. Read. Write. Repeat. The importance of self-editing.
Quality content must come from the source. You cannot rely on an editor to whip a piece into shape for you, especially in our fast-paced world where a quick turnaround is essential. Every article, product description and tagline should be treated as though it were about to be published. Of course, there is always room for error, you’re only human, but taking a fastidious approach makes the process easier for everyone.
2. Let your words breathe. Don’t just write and publish.
While copywriting is definitely more of a craft than an art form, creativity is still a crucial part of the process. Sometimes the best ideas are formed at the most random times and there really is no better solution to writer's block than forty winks. Ok, so we don’t usually have the luxury of downing tools when we feel like it and staring wistfully into the distance, but even giving your content a quick edit in the morning will work wonders.
3. ...but do set deadlines. Realistic ones at that.
There is nothing quite like a looming deadline to get the gears going. Without one, it is all too easy to fall into the mindset of, ‘why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?’ The wealth of organisational apps available means there is no excuse for not keeping on top of your schedule. However, what it really comes down to is you. If you know you can’t be trusted with endless hours in which to procrastinate, then break up the project by providing your client, colleague or even a friend deadlines for each stage. You’ll be amazed what the fear of an irate email from your boss can do to your productivity levels.
4. Practice Planning makes perfect.
As the old adage goes, 'failing to prepare is preparing to fail' (or something to that effect). The point is that whether you’re writing a 1000-word article or a single sentence strapline, you cannot expect genius to come from nowhere. Before you tackle an article or blog post, take some time to plan out what you want to say, think about the audience and get a sense of the tone you wish to take. Creating a format for the different types of copy you need to write will speed up this process and eventually you will find yourself smashing out effortless, on-brand content.
5. Less is more. No, really.
As William Shakespeare once wrote, ‘brevity is the soul of wit’, or to put it in modern day terms, ‘get to the point.’ Copywriting is a reductive process - the distillation of a million ideas, decisions and details into a couple of short sentences, or sometimes even a few choice words. As I mentioned before, content can be far more exploratory than copywriting, but that doesn’t mean concision is to be ignored. While this may sound daunting, the process of streamlining your content to focus on the key information will make it easier for the reader to engage with the points you are making.
This doesn’t mean you have to lose all sense of style and write in monotonous tones. Just make sure that however poetic your writing, it can always be read in layman’s terms and crucially, avoid repeating points over and over and over...
6. Always remember who you’re writing for.
It’s a commonly held theory that good design is invisible - form and function being so perfectly balanced that the piece in question slots seamlessly into people's lives without them even realising. I believe that copywriting is similar; a well-crafted piece is not there for show but to serve a purpose.
This isn’t to say that copy can’t be used to grab someone’s attention (everyone loves a catchy slogan after all), however, you should never read a piece of copy and be thinking about its construction or what it’s trying to sell. It needs to feel natural, even if that three-word tagline has gone through endless rewrites, focus groups and consultations.
While content writing may provide more space to get creative this does not mean that you can’t take a streamlined approach to get the most of it. Likewise, great copywriting does not have to be clinical and should seek to embrace a less obviously 'salesy' tone to bring a story to life. After all, both practices have the same goal and should be managed in conjunction to truly engage customers.