So what is a copywriter?

I’ve had a number of new business enquiries since the turn of the year, which is always great. SMEs who’ve Googled ‘website writers’, ‘writer for brochure’, ‘advert writing’ etc. have happily landed on my website and called me. From those that’ve never used a copywriter before, one of the first questions I’m asked is along the lines of, ‘Now what do you do exactly?’

And this really is nothing unusual. It’s quite natural even. Being at a party, a seminar or a training course and saying ‘I’m a copywriter…’ is 9 times out of 10 met with a quizzical tilt of the head, a gentle intake of breath and a response something like, ‘Oh, right?’ Which is why I’ve always added, ‘ …a marketing writer.’ in the same sentence.

Not a helpful term

Let’s be honest, the term ‘copywriter’ really doesn’t help. I’ll go further than that and say it’s actually unhelpful at explaining what I do. And what irony too, for a profession that aims to ensure clear and unambiguous communication with customers. Not so clever.

Most often I’ve found people thinking I have something to do with the business of ‘copyright’. Yes it sounds the same but no, I’ve absolutely nothing to do with protecting anybody’s work or ideas from being copied, altered or sold by anybody else…

Google ‘what is copy’ and you’ll find definitions that’ll say something like, ‘written material that encourages people to buy products and services’ or ‘the text in newspapers or magazines’. Sadly, more often than not, many definitions of ‘copywriter’ you find are still tied to the world of advertising.

Not an ad man

And for historical reasons many people still associate ‘copywriter’ with the ad men of the 60’s, Madison Avenue, the Mad Men with sharp suits and dubious morals. The advertising copywriters bashing out consumer TV and magazine ads, creating headlines and slogans to last a lifetime. This is not me.

I’m far more likely to be writing a search engine optimised website, a landing page or an email campaign than I am an advert. Though yes, I still do ads. And I’m just as likely to be writing a brochure, a case study, press release or newsletter. As a copywriter I get to write all kinds of marketing stuff for all kinds of different businesses.

Content’s better

The word ‘content’ has in the last 10 years or so become common parlance in marketing circles and for me personally has always been a reasonable substitute for the word ‘copy’. I’m a (Marketing) content writer, now that starts to make more sense. I’m happy with that. Marketing writer, even more efficient.

Alas there are still those who jump up and down shouting, “Ah yes, but there’s a big difference! … Copywriters write to convince people to take an action, while content writers write to inform … Really?!

The point of anything I write is surely to inform prospective and/or existing customers in such a way that it gets their attention, that it piques their interest, that they like what you have to say and that they’re happy enough to get in touch with you. I just don’t get this division between ‘informing’ and ‘convincing’. Do both.

The Six R’s®

So you heard it here first. ‘The Six R’s®’ term I’ve used for many years to explain what the copywriting job really entails. A bit tongue in cheek yes, but it seems to help. And no, it’s not actually a registered trademark, it’s just I invented it (at least I think I did) plus my name begins with ‘R’. Just coincidence.

Researching

Understanding your business is the vital first phase in the copywriting process.

Who are your existing and prospective customers? What are their needs, wants, desires? Their pain points? How do your products and services resolve them? How is your business different and better than the competition? What’s the real purpose of the writing? etc.

While a face-to-face meeting is nice, more often than not a phone call or Skype call is generally all I need to start the research process. I ask a load of questions and note all the answers. The interview becomes our creative brief.

You provide me with any relevant sources of information you want to. I complement it with further research, on your market, products, technology and competitors. I often interview a clients’ customers and if needs be play the role of ‘secret shopper’.

Research involves a lot of listening, reading and learning, it takes time. Some say it accounts for 25-30% of the total time spent on a job. It’s unavoidable and necessary though if the writing’s going to be right first time.

Ruminating

What follows is the thinking and planning phase. Whether it’s a website, brochure or article, it’s the next essential step in the copywriting process. ‘To chew the cud, meditate or ponder’, as a descriptive word ‘rumenate’ captures it perfectly

What simply has to be included? What can be left out? How best to tell your story? How to structure it so it’s easily understood? What’s at the beginning, the middle and the end? How many pages are needed, how many words per page, what about supporting illustrations?

Coming up with the appropriate strategy, the tactics and overall plan takes time. I do the ruminating for you, so you don’t have to do so much of it. It still takes time though.

(W)riting

And at last, the writing bit when I get to take everything I’ve learnt about your business and put the plan into action. It’s the creative bit, producing the copywriting that communicates clearly with your target customer and convinces him/her to take the right action.

And it’s just not all about spelling, punctuation and grammar either. Yes it needs to be right, but it’s the message that’s delivered and its tone that’s more important.

How the copywriting matches and engages with customers. How it provides them with the information they need to make an informed choice. How it handles any objections they might otherwise have had.

And it takes time to get it right. Copywriters don’t just ‘churn it out’.

Refining

The first copywriting draft you see will not have been my first. No, I will have reviewed it beforehand, editing it and refining it as many times as it takes before I think it’s right.

I was actually taught to apply an ‘overnight test’ to anything you write i.e. before you send it to a client, have a good night’s sleep, wake up refreshed and take another look at it. It can often yield improvements.

Relaying

Then of course I need to email it to you. But there’s some explanatory notes I need to communicate, a couple of specific details you might need to check up on, perhaps some suggestions on accompanying illustrations. We might have a call or two to discuss. I do this too so you get the full picture. And that takes time as well.

Revising

Revisions of course may still need to be made. You might want an alternative word here or there, a sentence to add, one to delete, an extra paragraph perhaps or one less. But if the first five phases have been done right, then the sixth shouldn’t take long. A final proof read from me and the copywriting’s done.

And so…

Copywriters don’t just (w)rite stuff for you, they research, ruminate, they refine, relay and revise as well. And some (like me) will project manage design and production too.

Copywriters I believe need to be pretty well ‘full-brained’ individuals i.e. they have to use both sides of the brain in almost equal measure. They’re creative and logical, humorous and analytical, versatile and driven.

Copywriters deliver far more than just writing skills. They bring objectivity, experience and advice, added values that are hard to put a price on… They’re collaborators in the most positive way.

It’s crazy really, it’s taken me a lifetime to get around to writing this article – I must have been too busy ruminating 😉