I am frequently asked precisely what a marketing copywriter is, and many people are surprised to hear that my job has nothing to do with the entertainment industry or writing legal restrictions. No. In fact, as a copywriter, it is part of my job to know the difference between ‘copyright’ and ‘copywrite’. The dictionary will tell you that a copywriter is “a person who writes the text of advertisements or publicity material.” As far as descriptions go, it’s very accurate, but it neglects to mention the heart that goes into the work. I represent brands, I write on behalf of people who have built small companies from dust, I write on behalf of large corporations, I am the voice bringing a business to the public. Here are a few of the gold stars you need to master if you want to write great marketing copy.
There’s no room for ego and skill on the same page if you’re writing marketing copy
Starting a career as a marketing copywriter has its very own initiation process, a testing few months which will determine whether you will flourish or, well… not. The first test is learning to handle client feedback, even when it absolutely sucks.
You know when you have to rip a band-aid off your skin and you know it’s going to be birch tree but you have to do it because you’ll feel better afterwards? Yeah. This is not like that at all.
You’ll sit down and feel like a skilled prodigy when you first start out, as you tap expertly away on the keyboard, fingers flying faster than an epileptic Hitachi telegraph operator on a double dose of caffeine. You’ll lean back and survey your work with pride when it’s done, after all, you’re the best, right?
The writing you forged out of the depths of your soul and crafted to contain all of the necessary information while you wonder to yourself if anyone could have devised such ingenious ideas, will be rewritten or completely rejected by the client. Not always, but on a good few occasions.
Sometimes the work is too ‘wordy’ (crazy, right?), sometimes your creative tangent led you away from the original brief, sometimes you just plain get it wrong, and that is okay. The sting never really hurts less, you simply learn. Creative work is subjective, once you understand that what the marketing copywriter thinks and wants for a brand is inconsequential if the client disagrees, you’re on the path to success. Your opinion doesn’t matter, but you have to write like it does. The more you resist the feedback you’re given, the longer you’ll feel the burn. Only when you finally lay aside your high opinion of your writing will you start to build your skills and adapt to the criteria, which are completely different to those of other writers, or as some people like to say, writers (there is a notion that copywriters are, in fact, simply glorified credit card salesmen and not quite ‘writers’).
Marketing copywriters never watch their babies grow up
Your babies, obviously, are the creative campaigns you’ve given life to. You’ve formulated them from nothing more than a brief, added imagery, colour, depth and life and then they’ve travelled on to the design departments before taking their place in the big wide world. While photoshoots are scheduled, billboards are erected, and the campaign takes shape, you’ll be in your office, among ringing phones and stacks of paper, having moved on to new projects three or four times already, never seeing the end product or getting involved beyond birthing it.
A marketing copywriter lays the groundwork, the foundations. You’re there at the inception of the concept, creative juices flowing at the same pace as water from a rock in a desert, at times. None of your ideas will ever be credited to you, nothing you write will be owned by you, and the only success you will enjoy will be to watch the businesses you represent rise in the world of brands and marketing, thanks to you. If you’re a true marketing copywriter at heart, this will be where you find your satisfaction. Your happiness lies in the success of others, which paves the way for your own, eventually.
As a marketing copywriter, you’ll end up wanting to buy the products you promote
Sounds crazy, but it’s really not when you consider that as a marketing copywriter you spend your entire day selling. You may not be signing contracts and meeting with clients, but you’re drafting marketing material all day, every day. Sometimes you will spend your entire day on one client, writing blogs around their products, composing posts for social media, writing adverts, thinking of clever billboard texts and writing website content. This means you’re fully immersed in the brand, their ethos, the products, and you’re constantly telling the public why this company is superior to its competitors. I find myself browsing the websites of the clients I have, convinced I am in desperate need of whatever it is they’re selling because I have been telling others exactly that.
For example, one of our clients supplies labels for packaging. I have online shopping carts filled with my favourite bulk labels, despite having no products to label, no business that would ever require labels, no need for packaging or any other type of labels…ever…I am a writer. At best I could label by computer. Yet, I have a shopping cart (which I never check out because obviously, some meagre amounts of sanity do still prevail) filled with product labels. No, they’re not the ones you can use in the home, either.
That’s right, I have successfully managed to sell my clients’ products (even the ones I have no need for, ahem, labels), to myself.
You’ll fall in love, with words, and with being a marketing copywriter
Here’s a surprising revelation. My love of words led me to a job which requires me to write all day, every day. One would logically assume I’d eventually dry up, the steam that once gushed enthusiastically would turn into a whiff of disappointment. Surprisingly, the opposite has happened. At school, I was the first kid in my class to pick up a novel and mow through it faster than a starved, crazed weasel after a popsicle stick (true story).
What I never expected was that marketing copywriting, known for being clever and crafty rather than long and creative, would foster an even deeper, profoundly intense love for words. Rather than being ‘used-up,’ my passion is positively ignited. Some mornings, when I feel like I’m not really ready to pick up the proverbial quill, reading over a few proses from the likes of Charles Bukowski and John Keats, stirs me, awakening that lust for imagery, the desire to move my reader. At that point, it no longer matters whether the reader wishes to be serenaded with romantic proses, or whether the reader needs to know exactly why marketing his business is important. I have my quest, and with my audience in mind I put finger to keyboard and I do my best to conjure a little magic with nothing but a blank slate and little curvy symbols.
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