Tom Albrighton

PRO

19 June 2012

Why we created the PCN

About two years ago, I got talking to Ben Locker about the possibility of a professional association exclusively for copywriters. Very soon, the possibility became a project, and now we’re very pleased to launch the Professional Copywriters’ Network – a way for UK copywriters to network, build business and develop professionally.

The PCN was a challenge that Ben and I both wanted to take on, for personal and professional reasons. But it was also a labour of love. We both felt, and still feel, that copywriting as a profession is undervalued and, often, underappreciated.

Trouble at mill

Our discussion began with the rapid growth in content mills cranking out low-grade content, mainly for SEO use. In our opinion, this type of ‘content creation’ has little to do with professional copywriting. And we don’t like to see aspiring copywriters – the sort of people who regularly approach us for advice – being exploited with rock-bottom rates and zero client interaction.

Arguably, that type of ‘content’ meets a need. But we believe that business – particularly ‘creative’ business – should be about more than putting ticks in boxes. People become copywriters because they want to communicate, persuade or illustrate as well as they can. By doing so, they help their clients to express the unique truths about the value they offer in new, arresting ways. That’s a million miles from churning out borderline-readable rubbish in the hope of fooling Google.

Besides, the whole ‘content farm’ approach is, in our view, hopelessly flawed – it might draw traffic, but it won’t hold interest, encourage loyalty or generate sales.

Only quality content gets real results. And it can only be generated by a professional, two-way relationship between client and copywriter, built on genuine understanding and a thoughtful, iterative approach to writing. That approach might be more expensive but, pound for pound, we believe it delivers more lasting value to business.

Gift-wrapped air

Content mills, which position copy as a commodity rather than a service, are an extreme example of the undervaluing of copywriting. But they’re by no means the only one.

In much of the marketing world, online and offline, you’ll find copywriting and content treated as an option, an afterthought or a tiresome obligation. Even though every marketing communication ultimately comes down to words and ideas, the people who create those precious things are involved too little, too late or not at all.

Not at the top of the food chain, the big agencies working for blue-chip clients, where copywriters develop advertising concepts in partnership with designers and art directors, under the guiding influence of a creative director. But further down the pyramid, where challenger brands, regionally focused companies and startups ply their trade, it’s common to find people seeking design first, copy second – or, more likely, never. Business owners and marketers splurge thousands on design, print and placement, but choose to write the copy themselves. It’s a bit like gift-wrapping a box with nothing inside.

We believe that every business can afford the expertise of a professional copywriter. It might be a seasoned pro, or it might be someone who’s just starting out – but the involvement of someone who’s 100% focused on writing is always better than going it alone. (If nothing else, the outsider’s perspective on the product or project is always enlightening.) That’s one reason why we’ve created a directory of copywriters, so firms can find a writer they’ll love to work with.

Virtual insanity

What about digital marketing? Again, we believe the copywriter’s skills are overlooked too often. Glance through a site like Econsultancy and you’ll find fevered discussion of search tactics, PPC advertising, social-media strategy, Facebook ad placement, content marketing, mobile apps and every other avenue of activity available in the digital realm. But there’s precious little about the actual content that will drive these campaigns. It’s all about execution, rarely about ideas.

And that’s surprising, because content really matters. In fact, Brand researchers comScore found that creative messages are four times more important than ad spend in determining sales outcomes. In other words, even in the fast-moving digital realm, what you say is still far more important than how, where or when you say it.

Traditional craft

Lack of novelty may be part of the problem. Despite the emergence of disciplines such as ‘content strategy’ or ‘content architecture’, and technical developments like SEO and social media, the heart of copywriting does not change. The essential craft of the marketing writer is the same as it always was: get attention, communicate benefits, drive action. Sure, there are trends in copywriting, just as there are in design. But a lot of copy from 50 years ago could be dusted off and reused without even seeming particularly retro.

It’s precisely this unchanging role that makes copy so important. Regardless of channel and occasion, marketing will always be about using words as well as possible to inform and persuade. Familiarity may breed contempt, but marketers ignore this eternal truth at their peril.

So that’s one reason why we founded PCN – to build the profile of copywriting as a profession.

Let’s stay together

But there was more to it than that. We also wanted somewhere like-minded copywriters could hang out, swap ideas and support each other’s work. So we’ve created a blog and a forum where they can do exactly that.

Having seen how much copywriters loved to interact on Twitter, and write blog posts, we wanted to try and bring all that expertise, fun and mutual support together so it could be concentrated, curated and preserved. There are a lot of very clever, experienced and funny people out there, sharing some very valuable wisdom and reflection. We hope they’ll decide to share some of it with their fellow PCN members, because there’s no doubt we can all benefit from it.

We also plan to arrange actual face-to-face get-togethers for PCN members. Freelancing can be a lonely business – and even an in-house role can feel like solitary confinement if you’re the lone champion of content in an organisation. We hope that by bringing everyone together, we can give each other a little warmth, friendship and reassurance – as well as sharing knowledge and simply having a great time.

Thanks for reading. If you’re already a PCN member, thanks also for being part of the venture. If you’re not, we hope you’ll join us soon, and bring your unique experiences, insights and character to our network.

  • Hands of a copywriter

What do you think?

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PRO

Andy Nattan

June 19, 2012 at 10:37am

“even an in-house role can feel like solitary confinement if you’re the lone champion of content in an organisation”

You speak the truth there. If one more designer, developer or SEO describes content as “blurb”, I’m going to grab my laptop and work from the roof.

Jackie Barrie

June 19, 2012 at 4:05pm

Better to grab your laptop and bash them over the head with it!

PRO

Andy Nattan

June 19, 2012 at 4:21pm

There’s something in my contract about using (fully justified) violence. I think it’s a gross misconduct offence.

David Keith

June 19, 2012 at 4:54pm

Fantastic idea Tom (& Ben!). Happy to be on board and I look forward to its positive effect on the profile of copywriters everywhere.

Kate Smith

June 19, 2012 at 8:57pm

Glad to know of the group. I have joined. It’s great to see a group so aligned with promoting this wonderfully-creative endeavor called copywriting. Yes, folks, there are “real” people behind our words!

Carole Seawert

June 26, 2012 at 12:30pm

Congratulations to Tom and Ben for starting this. I’m looking forward to being part of this new venture.

Martin Hayman

June 27, 2012 at 11:36pm

Two song titles in five crosssheads? That’s overdoing it, chaps.

Nice idea, I wish you well.