Write offs. Are copywriters being sidelined?

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Over the last week, I've very much enjoyed reading a debate, prompted by one of my Creativepool columns, on LinkedIn. It's always particularly satisfying to find creative professionals reacting to a piece I've written and I'm grateful to anyone who does.
However, I quickly noticed that most correspondents were designers, commenting from a design perspective and occasionally taking me to be a designer too. I'm not though, I'm a copywriter (and columnist, obviously). This set me thinking, are copywriters something of an afterthought in the modern creative industry? And if so, how did this happen?

About eight years ago, I was working for a branding agency in the Thames Valley. Within a few days it became apparent that my colleagues, including the management, always referred to the designers and art directors as 'creatives'. Likewise, layouts and artwork were called 'the creative work'. The copy was viewed as something other than 'creative'. I wasn't particularly offended or upset, I just thought it was curious - and guessed it must be something peculiar to this company. Now I'm not so sure.
Examining the magazines and websites available to the industry, it's clear there's a bias towards the visual arts. Not exclusively, but noticeably and increasingly. From Design Week to Creative Review, graphic design has always been well served, but I don't believe I've ever seen a copywriting magazine.

Don't misunderstand me, this is not a rant against design or art direction. I am always hugely impressed by a well designed advertisement, logo or website. I actively admire great art direction - not least of all because it's something I couldn't do myself. So, I have no problem with the skill and innovation of designers being praised and promoted - but I am concerned the role of the copywriter is becoming eclipsed. Indeed, I have recently visited a couple of agencies which don't actually employ copywriters, choosing to bring in freelances 'when they need one'.
Hold on. Surely any advertising or marketing business needs a copywriter on a daily, if not hourly, basis? It would appear they don't.
There is no doubt in my mind that the value of properly constructed and expertly crafted  written language has diminished considerably in the last couple of decades. I have lost count of the number of letters and emails I have received from large organisations and professional people, riddled with poor spelling, dreadful grammar and incorrect vocabulary. And I know of at least one Twitter feed, from a gigantic mobile phone operator, which would embarrass a six year old. There was a time when this would have been completely unacceptable. To my eternal dismay, that time has passed.

So, I suppose, if precise language no longer matters so much, then the talents of a copywriter naturally become less important.
But make no mistake, this is a desperate spiral downwards. Effective and impressive communication cannot rely solely on colours and shapes. The audience may not realise, or even care, but the copy they read will only have the desired impact if they have been written by someone who understands the written word. Cutting the verbal corner will only result in expensive crashes.

Perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe I'm just suffering from a touch of unwarranted paranoia. But if I'm right, I willingly acknowledge it falls to writers to rectify the problem. If we're living in the shadow of our artistic partners, then it's up to us to shine more brightly. If there's a battle to demonstrate why great copy still matters, then into battle we must go.

Unless we're happy to see our trade become a fondly remembered anachronism and retrain as art directors.    


Magnus Shaw is a copywriter (yes!), blogger and consultant




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