I was very pleased to receive a big response to my recent piece on becoming a copywriter but one question really caught my attention. The correspondent asked me to suggest a 'type' of copywriting in which to specialise. This rather threw me, but it set me thinking there's something odd going on.
In recent weeks I have spotted creative industry recruitment ads asking for: an 'Online content specialist copywriter', a 'Financial sector writer', a 'Social network front end designer' and a 'Cosmetics brand specialist creative team'
And that's just for starters.
Now, I understand every employer needs to ensure they snare the best candidate for a role, but they are surely missing a trick. I don't know exactly when this happened, but it seems we are all now expected to be specialists in some very narrow area of creativity.
At the risk of being a grumpy old writer, it wasn't like that in my day. Actually, it was quite the opposite. Creative directors and agency heads were considerably more likely to be impressed by the scope of your abilities. If you were able to turn your hand to broadcast with the same flair and panache as direct mail, you were a more valuable asset. If your ideas were just as effective on a poster campaign as they were on a branding brief, you were the man (or woman). But times change and now one's expertise is only attractive if it is focused on a pin-head sized part of the business.
Which might be fair enough if it wasn't such a pantomime. The likelihood of a writer or designer with an extensive career and hard won talents doing nothing but social network projects or working solely on cosmetics accounts is slim to say the least. And if such individuals do exist, would they really have the insight, knowledge and depth needed to perform? I don't think so.
Of course, on the modern job board, the most ubiquitous specialism is 'digital'. Leaving aside the rather humorous notion that digital designers and writers must look like Cybermen, this is another red herring. It suggests there is some remote corner of the creative industry where the studio team remain untouched by the science fiction of the internet, thus precluding them from the opportunity. Surely every professional creative bod has now produced work for publication on a digital platform by now, therefore we are all 'digital'. But only in the same way that we are all 'paper' or all 'ink'. It doesn't really mean anything does it?
So, in the hope there's a smattering of employers reading, I'd make a suggestion. Don't worry so much about specialism. Relax, it's okay. A talented designer or writer can effortlessly apply their capabilities to most platforms, most clients and most briefs. In fact, that is the very nature of their skill - the very thing that makes them successful. Believe me, you don't really want a digital, cosmetics, front end, social network content writer. You want a smart, rounded, insightful, experienced creative who, through a rich and varied background, has developed the ability to produce excellent work, whatever the brief.
Place adverts for folk matching that description and you'll be pleasantly surprised at the quality and range of applications you receive. That's how you find really special people.
Magnus Shaw - copywriter & blogger