I’m never quite sure how to reply when people ask ‘What do you do?’ If I 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 start talking about novels and films, or ask me to read something they’ve written.
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 what do I do?
A copywriter will generate language to express ideas, themes and concepts. Part of my job is to be inspired, to come up with new ways of saying things. To find the truth at the heart of the thing.
One of my skills is in recognising what language works and what doesn’t, then tweaking and refining it so that will appeal to potential customers. My aim is to choose words that will attract their attention and get them to read on. It’s my job to put myself in your customers’ shoes and ask ‘What does this mean for me?’
And that’s just the start of it. Explaining what a business does and how it does it, can be tricky. I work from research and commercial information available, that’s often technical and jargon filled. My job is to take that and out it in terms that customers understand, and more importantly, relate to.
One of the most exciting parts of my job involves working with other creative people, including designers, to come up with ideas for campaigns, websites, adverts and other forms of marketing. Together we will develop the themes, look, feel and design that a business will use on brochures, leaflets, emails, websites, product boxes and all over the place.
The finished idea may only include a few words of copy – a sentence, a line, three words or less – but in the process of getting there I’ll have written many more that your customers will never see.
I also read. Good writing starts with reading. And I’ve been a voracious and experimental reader of everything, ever since I first learned the skill. When books were banned from the breakfast table, I’d read the back of the cereal packet.
In business I often read factual reports, documents and insights that help me understand the subject that I’ll be writing about. My skill is to take those words and turn them into something that a customer will understand, and engage with – to make them think ‘oh, that’s just like me.’
Because I work with words all the time, I’m good at spotting when there’s one that’s spelled incorrectly, or picking up on a bit of grammar that doesn’t make sense.
Sometimes I read with a red pen in my hand and filter out mistakes. I don’t profess to be a professional proofreader, but by acting as another pair of eyes to check over your writing, I can stop you from making the kind of mistakes that put people off dealing with your business.
I also help people and businesses understand the importance of language in their communications. That means talking about and demonstrating tone of voice in action and applying it to different businesses. I do this though workshops, training sessions, writing examples, offering advice and constructive feedback.
Communicating clearly with customers is just one part of business writing. Doing it in a way that gives a real sense of connection, showing the face behind the business, being authentic is what really drives me as a writer.
There’s often a bit of a debate about the term copywriter – and whether there’s a better word we could use to describe what we do.
Personally I use the term writer, but then put it into a business context. In any case, what I call myself is just the start of the story. Keeping you interested is the real skill.