Last week, I wrote a blog post entitled, Why on earth do I need a copywriter? I speak English and own a computer. As I'd hoped, the blog caught the attention of a lot of you – but not just copywriters, as it turned out. From designers to marketing directors, it struck a universal chord, prompting virtual nods of agreement. Some of you on various LinkedIn groups posted a jolly good rant yourselves in reply.
Because really, nobody likes to feel undervalued – or, worse still, not valued at all.
If you didn't read the first article, you can do so by clicking here. I recommend you have a cup of steaming hot camomile tea ready, though; it made some people quite angry, as I said. But if you want to cut to the chase, one analogy of mine that seemed to catch quite a lot of people's attention – in which I suggest that maybe, just maybe, not everybody can write good, engaging copy – was this:
"I mean, look at X Factor. We all have a mouth and some vocal cords, but not everybody can sing. Unless they're trained or there is a natural ability, the sound that comes out is going to be like a fox on heat that's just sat on an open jar of Coleman's English mustard."
Now, here's the thing. After I published my blog, I was emailed by someone who had been on a copywriting course recently. Well done, them, I thought. It's always worth learning from copywriters that are more experienced and have been around the block a few times. I have a stack of books I still refer to on a regular basis, I subscribe to a few gurus' email newsletters and I have the odd contact I might approach for a second opinion if I need it. As the saying goes, you're never too old to learn.
But here's the bit that troubled me. The person that emailed me had been on a copywriting course aimed at people in marketing and would-be copywriters. The person hosting the event had opened with something like this:
"Some people think they can't write. Of course they can! Why do I say that? Because they write every day! What, you don't have a work email account? We all write every day! And we usually all want something, right? Or we're trying to sell something? Yes? So we're all writing to try get something, aren't we? We're trying to persuade! And that's all good copywriting is!"
When I read this, my heart just sank. On a very superficial level, there is a smidgeon of truth in the last two sentences – I can just about go along with that in some contexts. But the other claims?
I mean, for the love of Ogilvy, come ON!
Being a good enough copywriter to make it a full-time gig is hard enough as it is – at least, if you want to make a wage you can actually live off – without some splatter-gun industry colleague belittling our very well honed talents into something any clot with hands and a keyboard can do.
I refer you back to my X Factor analogy. Sure, if you feel you have a way with words, give copywriting a go. Heck, you might be good at it – who knows? But if you go into the industry thinking that you're a natural because you make your mates crack up with pithy tweets and Facebook updates (because hey, you're the next Caitlin Moran or Jeremy Clarkson), then I have news for you:
Number one: that isn't copywriting; that's writing a column. And it's kinda unlikely you'll be that good.
And, much more importantly, number two: forget foxes and Coleman's mustard. You'll be like a bunny on the M1 trying to win a staring match with Eddie Stobart. Probably.
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Ashley is a copywriter (yes, an actual copywriter), editor and blogger.
Don't make him angry. Please.