The Scribbler

13 May 2010

So what does a copywriter do?

Filed under: copy writing,words — The Scribbler @ 19:49

I’m never quite sure how to reply when people ask ‘What do you do?’ If I use my official job title and say I’m a copywriter, they either look at me blankly or start asking questions about the little c in a circle symbol (that’s copyright – something different entirely). If I say I’m a writer, people ask what novels I’ve published.

Basically I write things and read things. ‘Great!’ I hear you cry, ‘I can do that…can I be a copywriter too?’ And yes, my job does use basic skills that most of us have. I just choose to specialise in them.

So, for example, one of the most exciting parts of my job involves working with a team of designers to come up with ideas for marketing campaigns. To develop the themes, look, feel and design that a business will use on adverts, brochures, leaflets, on emails, websites and even on boxes.

That often starts with a message, a slogan, a strapline. And that’s where I start.

I might take inspiration from something someone has said, or spark ideas from any number of discussions and conversations. But part of my skill is in recognising something that works and tweaking and refining it so that will appeal to potential customers. I want to choose something that will attract their attention and get them to read on.

And that’s just the start of it. Explaining what we do and how we do it, especially when you’re writing about business software, as I do most of the time, can be tricky. It’s my job to put myself in the customer’s shoes and ask ‘What does this mean for me?’

There’s a whole bundle of research and commercial information available, but it’s part of my job to take that sometimes technical stuff and put it in terms that everyone can understand. And, most importantly help the customers understand what a difference it will make to them.

I also mentioned that I read stuff. Mainly that’s just to understand the subject I’m writing about more clearly. But often it’s for inspiration too.

At work people often ask me to check that things are in the right tone of voice. And quite simply that means, do they sound like we want them to sound? Do they reflect the right brand personality?

Because I work with words all the time, I’m quite good at spotting when there’s one that’s spelled incorrectly, or picking up on a bit of grammar that doesn’t make sense. So sometimes I read stuff with a red pen in my hand and try to filter out any mistakes. I don’t profess to be a professional proofreader by any means (you can take exams in it and everything). I just act as another pair of eyes to check things.

I also have another role (another that I really enjoy) and that’s helping the people I work with understand and use the right tone of voice so that we communicate clearly with our customers and each other in a way that gives a sense of what we’re really like. That means running workshops, answering questions, writing blog posts and offering advice and constructive feedback.

Over on a copywriting blog I enjoy there was a bit of a debate about the term copywriter – and whether there’s a better word we could use to describe what we do.

But I kind of like copywriter. I’m sure lots of you have a similar problems describing what you do. In my case, what I call myself is just the start of the story. Keeping you interested is the clever bit.


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