I can write, so why do I need a copywriter?
Updated: Mar 17
So, you have a 2.1 for your English Degree. You got an A in English Literature for A-Level. You’re great at adding adjectives and understand every single grammar rule. You would never break one. You love flowery language and long sentences. You could be the modern-day Chaucer, come Shakespeare. And, you would never use and at the start of a sentence. But you wouldn’t use a conjunction at the start of a sentence either. It’s just not what you would do. And content without a lovely, colourful selection of adjectives would be a travesty, would it not?
Put your red pen down now!
If you’re an old-school grammarian (you may well have gone to a grammar school but I’m referring here to punctuation rules and making the most of the beauty of the English language) you may actually need a copywriter.
What’s wrong with grammar and adjectives?
I love traditional writing. Don’t get me wrong. The streams of consciousness of James Joyce are something else. But Hemingway's semi-revolutionary style hits the spot. He stripped away everything he didn't need from a sentence or paragraph. He brought writing down to the bare bones. He wrote in short sentences. And still hit the spot.
The problem with adjectives
are they tell, not show. When I did my Journalism MA years ago, my first assignment was to remove every single adjective from a piece of writing. Adjectives banned for the entire year. Except in feature writing when we had the luxury of using a single adjective in 1000 words. It had to count. Really count.
The problem with grammar
An actual writer needs to follow grammar rules and write how we write. A copywriter can break the rules of grammar to write how we speak. And, I love to break rules as much as I love a good natter. Rules are there, in my book, to be broken. So, there’s a significant difference between writing. And copywriting.
Of course, it’s good to know the rules of grammar, but it’s important that you’re confident enough to break them. Know that your client, or boss, will think that you didn’t actually go to school and may want to correct your grammar. It is a risk. But a risk worth taking.
How I write copy
When I write copy, I imagine my reader sitting right in front of me. Naked if it helps. How would I say what I want to say? I write how I speak. I then type it up that way and after some editing, which takes much longer than writing, often end up with copy that wouldn’t win a Booker Prize. Although I’m UEA alumni and completed a couple of creative writing modules so I live in hope.
Elmore Leonard said, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
Know your audience, as well as your grammar
As David Ogilvy once said, “If you're trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.”
Ogilvy states that you cannot write copy that is successful unless you know what the person reading needs, who you are writing for and their thought process. To do this you need to do your research and understand your audience personas.
An eye for design and layout
Writing descriptions, blogs or headlines is only part of the work. Copywriters often need to make what they’ve written look good. If you have an eye for design, you know your typography and fonts, and have the ability to visualise words and layout. Of course, social media posts often need creative elements too.
There are things that copywriters benefit from, that as a good writer you don’t need, such as design and marketing. More and more these days I’m getting brought into the design and creative process, which I love.
Sales and marketing
Some people go as far as saying that a copywriter is a glorified salesperson or marketer. If you’re in the legal or finance team, or an academic or an entrepreneur, you can write of course, but copy? It’s a whole different story.
It's all about SEO
As a traditional writer, you may not know much about the rules of SEO and keywords for online copy. Why would you repeat the same word three times in the opening paragraph and what are H2 and H3 headings?
Imagine all the people
Well, person. A vivid imagination helps. Some argue that copywriting isn’t the least bit creative, I disagree. How else would you come up with something unique or find a new angle for a press release? Creative thinking is key.
Even if you are a proficient writer, copywriting can be boring. You might be asked to write about products from dental braces and solar panels to point of sale systems that you don’t feel passionate about. Oh and don’t get me started on hitting character counts! That is a lot harder if you don’t at least enjoy the process of writing.
Where do I find an elusive, grammar breaking copywriter then?
Copywriters can be hard to track down because we write everything and anything that needs to be written. Whether it’s a social media post shouting about the next sales promotion, or it’s a whitepaper on cybersecurity, a copywriter has written it. And, not all copywriters are good at writing everything! Some are brilliant at blogs and others are better at advertising slogans.
Usually, you’ll find copywriters hanging out at agencies, working in corporate marketing teams, or freelancing. Very seldom do you find them in coffee shops. That’s a myth. Mostly...
The worst clients
I would say my worst clients are the ones with the English Degree. The ones that never break the rules. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing when you need to explain that the readability of the paragraph they want to be included will confuse the hell out of the audience!
Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash
Of course, you can write your own copy
If you love words, have an English Degree and/or have impeccable grammar, you can of course write your own copy. But, some advice…
Break the rules.
Drop the adjectives.
Write for the audience and not yourself.
Kiss (keep it simple stupid/silly/sexy)
If you’re looking for a rule-breaking, adjective hating copywriter, Moo Marketing & Copy is here to help.