Mention the word ‘recruitment’ to many copywriters and either their eyes will glaze over or they’ll go searching for the nearest cross and clove of garlic. Former advertising agency account director and, for the past 13 years, copywriter specialising in recruitment communications, Alasdair Murray tells us a bit about what it’s like to work in this niche area.
How did you get to specialise in recruitment?
I fell into it by chance really. I started my advertising career at national and regional newspapers where, after working on every possible classified advertising section, I became a sales executive for ‘sits vac’ as we used to call it. I’ve been involved in recruitment advertising/marketing ever since.
So you haven’t always been a copywriter?
No. Well, sort of. Without realising it, back in those newspaper days, I often helped clients with the wording of their job ads, so was regularly writing copy. I then went on to work for advertising agencies that specialised in recruitment communications and worked my way up to account director level. Along the way, I worked with a whole range of clients, including looking after the BBC corporate recruitment account (one of the perks being regular trips to the Top of The Pops recordings in Elstree). I also used to write a bit of copy for a client if the creative team were busy. So once again, I was honing my writing skills without even thinking about it. Then, one day, I did think about it, had a light bulb moment and decided to stop being a suit, and start being a creative. That was 14 years ago, and I’ve worked from home ever since.
What’s the attraction of specialising in recruitment
Quite simply, the sheer variety that every day brings. For instance, I’ve just finished writing copy for a leading airline and yesterday I was writing web content for a recruitment consultancy, an HTML mailer for one of Richard Branson’s businesses and online job ad copy for a leading charity and a major transport provider. Tomorrow? Who knows?
What’s the downside?
The timescales are usually very tight, particularly where writing copy for a job ad is concerned. There’s no time for navel contemplating, but then, having worked in the business for so long, I’m used to turning things round sooner rather than later. Also, I get sent job descriptions in all shapes and sizes that I have to make sense of. Sometimes they’re a page long, sometimes on a par with War and Peace. I probably save a couple of trees a year by reducing the point size and tightening up the spacing before I print some of them out.
Doesn’t it get a bit boring?
Not at all. As I say, each day brings something new and, at times, unexpected. Yes, I have my regular clients, mostly ad agencies, but I’ve written copy for lots of different organisations – over 250 the last time I counted – each with their own story to tell. My bread and butter work is job ads, but I get juicy web content projects too (my biggest was a three week rewrite of the entire web content for one of the UK’s leading recruitment consultancies), so it’s never dull.
How have things changed over the years?
Obviously the biggest change came in the early 1990s, when the migration from print to online began. That was during my account handling days when it was great to get stuck into a nice press campaign, complete with colour, imagery and creative headlines. I still get to write copy for print, but it’s the exception rather than the rule these days. You can still have a bit of fun with online mailers and web content though, plus, in an online recruitment world full of dull and uninspiring ads on a plethora of job boards, it’s nice to be able to write something that makes my client stand out from the crowd.
How easy is it to become a recruitment copywriter?
As someone who’s been involved in thousands of recruitment exercises (I’m just approaching my 5000th copywriting job as a freelancer), from a simple job ad to a project involving 90 pages of web content, it’s second nature to me. However, for someone coming into recruitment communications cold, I can understand why they might approach such an assignment with a sense of apprehension. It often amazes me how seemingly few people are able to write a decent job ad, but then it is a niche area. Every new job presents its own unique challenge, but it’s a challenge I can face knowing that being able to produce a decent bit of copy for any job or any client, is ingrained in me. It did, however, take years of practice, a lot of it without even realising I was a copywriter – until that light bulb moment back in 2001.