“I’m not sure you really want a copywriter for this,” I say in my best diplomatic voice.
It’s at this point when the person who’s made the enquiry tends to pause (if they’re on the phone) or look confused. Then they get their head together.
“We do. We have lots of writing that needs doing.”
I think I’m supposed to look pleased. The enquirer usually continues; imagine a certain gushiness as they pick up speed.
“We have several management reports that need writing, a couple of capability statements, a lot of blog posts and some proof-reading.”
At this point the client-in-waiting definitely expects me to do backflips around the room. All that lovely writing! In reality, it’s at this point my heart sinks. Because copywriting – even though there’s that word ‘writing’ in the name – is not so much about writing. Let me explain.
What is copywriting?
Copy writing is selling off the page or screen. The page can be made of paper or on a website, the screen can be a computer, a cinema screen or a TV. But the purpose of the screen / page is to get the reader to take action. It takes a very specific form of gradual persuasion and appreciation of motivation, fear and psychology to get it right. It is hard.
Those pieces of junk mail you receive? They’re written by a copywriter. As are the adverts in newspapers and magazines. And so are television commercials and politician’s speeches.
In all of these media, the words and images are carefully chosen by the copywriter to persuade the reader to part with cash, click on a link, make a phone call or form an opinion. Every single one. If it ain’t selling or spin, it’s not copywriting. It doesn’t even have to be writing. Part of a copywriter’s job can be (alongside the design department) choosing suitable images that get reader’s attention. A YouTube promotional video is written by a copywriter.
Copywriters also think up company names and straplines, slogans and put together the overall messaging of a business that is used in all client-facing communications. This is called branding.
Websites and company brochures are also written by copywriters, which is where, I suspect, the confusion arises. A company website is an online brochure, its function is to make sales, generate leads or shorten the sales process. As such, at least some of the pages, and the key messaging, needs to be written by a copywriter who understands how to make the website earn its keep; that is: make sales, shorten the sales process or generate leads.
Now, this process of generating messages and crafting copy that sells takes time. Your copywriter will spend most of their time concepting. That is, coming up with an angle and a hook for drawing in the reader or viewer and making a compelling case for buying – or whatever other action you’d like them to take. The writing’s the easy bit.
The point of this is to make the following clear:
If all you need is someone to string words together without a sales angle, you need a WRITER. You don’t need a copywriter, they’re expensive; you’ll be wasting your money and their time.
So, for the following projects, look for a commercial writer or business writer, or even blog writer and save yourself some cash:
- Social media updates
- Blog posts
- Annual reports
- Capability Statements
- Internal newsletters
- Technical papers
Also, if you know exactly what you want on your website or brochure and just want someone to pen your ideas, you don’t really need a copywriter either.
You DO need a copywriter when you are producing:
- Key brand messages
- Promotional videos
- Landing pages
- Direct mail
- Marketing emails
- … and anything else that’s ‘salesy’.
For the rest? Anyone who can string a sentence together will do.