Copywriting is one of the lesser-known forms of writing, despite being around for almost as long as the written word. Ask the average person on the street to name as many forms of writing as possible and you’ll get the classics: novels, scripts, poetry and so on. If they do mention copywriting, they are likely either a copywriter themselves, or work with one. Mention that you are a copywriter, and many will assume you’re a lawyer (the confusion with copyrighting has been the bane of the copywriter for a very long time).
The Art of Copywriting
Despite its obscurity, the art of writing copy is one of the most important and powerful forms in use. Open a newspaper or magazine and you’ll see dozens if not hundreds of advertisements, everything from the newest perfume to the best school for your children. Open your phone or PC browser and you’ll see a hundred more online and on social media. We may curse the junk mail and pop-up ads but every word you read was painstakingly written by a copywriter. It’s often ‘in your face’ but that’s because it works.
You’re reading “copy” right now
You’re also reading copy right now! With this blog I’m selling the idea of copywriting to you. It’s informative and will (hopefully) encourage you to consider using copy to boost your business. I’m also using this to sell a career in copywriting to any creative mind who fancies a change.
‘Copy’ is an umbrella term that means any written communication that is intended for wider distribution via print or digital media. Journalists also write copy, but their sole purpose is to inform, while copywriters advise, influence, and persuade while also being informative. The power to boost sales and broaden horizons means that there will always be demand for skilled copywriters. Even during recessions, even when the world grinds to a halt, they keep writing. They have the skills to reach the best audiences for a growing business and can help an established
one grow further still. They may be an unseen force, often buried in the marketing department, but without them sales would plummet, and companies would collapse. Sounds melodramatic? Good copy is the core of good SEO. Being on the front page of google means nothing if you aren’t selling yourself well.
Commercial Copywriting, more than just selling?
Copywriting can do a lot more than just sell products or promote a business. Recruitment copywriting finds candidates for jobs. Political parties and charities use copy to persuade and spread awareness. Copy can be used as a call to action, or even to stop people doing something (healthy living campaigns need the best copy possible to make the biggest impact). It’s a wide field, and the best copywriters will have experience in most, if not all, forms.
It’s a difficult skill to master. A novel only seeks to entertain, and the only action it asks from the reader is to buy a sequel or leave a review. Copy is a two-way street that asks a lot more. To get the reader to do something as simple as clicking a link isn’t easy, the reader won’t do it as a favour. So, what’s the secret? Many copywriters follow the AIDA principle, which adds structure to their copy:
What does AIDA stand for?
- A – ATTRACT the reader’s attention – a catchy title or tagline that draws the eye.
- I – Gain INTEREST – What’s in it for the reader? Is this something for them?
- D – Stimulate DESIRE – The reader is interested, now appeal to their emotions, make them want whatever you are selling.
- A – Take ACTION – They want the product, now make them buy it. Get them to click the link, spread the word or join the cause.
Depending on the copywriter’s goal, other letters can be added such as CONVINCE and SATISFY. The main four are impossible to replace. Out of the thousands of people who see every ad, only a few will make it past the title. But those few add up fast and following these principles ensures that your target audience gets what they want. According to legendary copywriter David Ogilvy ‘on average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy.’ Ogilvy is a writer I refer to a lot, his book ‘Confessions of an Advertising Man’ is as important as the dictionary to myself and many other copywriters around the world.
From what I’ve talked about so far, you probably imagine the copywriter to be a mysterious creature that works in a dark room, surrounded by stacks of magazines and churning printers. In fact, the job of a copywriter is far more than just the writing. They are often client facing and sell themselves as much as what they write. Freelancers are naturally the best at this, and a professional manner and adaptable people skills are essential. For them they may be working with a shop owner one day, the next a business tycoon. Those business owners will only want to work with someone they like. Skilful writing will get you through the door but presenting yourself well to your clients and your employers is what gets you hired.
All writers must learn to deal with criticism, and the copywriter is no different. It’s a very rare occurrence to write the perfect copy first time, your client or employer will always want something changed. A willingness to change your style, and a humble opinion of yourself goes a long way. Its difficult for a copywriter who’s worked for one client for a long time to change their style and structure to suit another. Swallowing your pride and going back to the drawing board is tough, but its part of the job. The best way is to work closely with your client and their team. Find out exactly what they want, and study what copy they have used before (just be careful, there might be a reason they need a new writer). Good people skills are essential here, you may only be part of the team for a short while, but you’ll gather vital knowledge for your work if you get along well with everyone. To quote David Ogilvy again, ‘where people aren’t having fun, they seldom produce good work.’
What makes a Good Copywriter?
A good copywriter needs a creative mind. With the need for a certain structure, it may seem like the copywriter is limited in what they can create, especially compared to novelists or poets. They may not be creating vast fantasy worlds and heart-wrenching poems, but a good imagination is essential. It may seem like a very different career path, but you’d be surprised how many copywriters write books, poems or blogs in their spare time. When I studied English at university, two of my tutors were ex-copywriters, and they pushed me to give it a go myself. If you enjoy writing, this might be just the challenge you need.
The final requirement to be a good copywriter is having a lot of varied interests. A freelance copywriter will have no idea what they are going to write about next, so read a lot and do as much as you can. If you’re hired to sell a car, ask to sit inside, talk to the designers, find out what makes it special before you write a single word. If its not your thing, use other’s passion to boost your writing. Passion is power, and research is vital.
How much does a Copywriter Cost UK?
If you’re a client or employer who is considering hiring a copywriter, you’re probably thinking ‘yeah that’s all great, but what would it cost me?’. An excellent question. A copywriting firm will calculate the hourly rate of their copywriters based on the workload required. If it’s a simple job that will only take a few days to a week or so, £30 to £40 an hour is industry standard for quality work. Freelancers and especially newer writers may be willing to work for less (£100 a day is typical) but they will be aware of their worth and will be working with other clients at the same time. If a writer is needed for long term projects (usually 6 weeks and longer) many firms will provide you a discount on the hourly rate. However, this will again depend on the workload. That may seem vague, I know, but it’s a huge industry and every firm and freelancer will value their work differently. It’s recommended to spend more for short term to get the best talent available, but if you’re willing to add a permanent member to the team a medium investment goes a long way. Remember, the longer you work with them the better their work will be.
I hope this post has enlightened you about the world of the copywriter. It’s a fascinating field, and essential to anyone not already using it. And to those thinking about their next big career change; I hope to read your copy soon.