Dave Harland

30 September 2015

Why journalists make great copywriters

Newspaper origamiI know I’m not the only copywriter out there who started out in journalism. Loads of us fell into this profession.

Not that ‘falling into’ this line of work is a bad thing; I actually love using my passion for language and storytelling skills to create a desire for whatever brand, product or service I’ve been asked to promote.

It’s just not the career I imagined when I left school and went down the journo path. To be honest, I didn’t even know that there was a copywriter path. I took it for granted that the adverts I saw on TV, heard on the radio and glanced at in the papers were created by some high-powered marketing bigwigs away in some huge office that looked like a big Fox’s Glacier Mint.

It just wasn’t journalism. It wasn’t what I had my heart set on. It wasn’t something people would go ‘oooh’ when you told them what you did for a living. And it wasn’t what my nan would be proud of.

I wanted to write news, sport and features. I wanted to interview people and uncover the truth. Create something with longevity. Something I’d be admired for. Certainly something meatier than a one-line press advert to sell a gift card, or a 30-second radio script talking about anti-fraud protection. Where you don’t even get a byline.

But that’s copywriting, and when you hear the click-through rate of the email you wrote has gone through the roof, or when there’s a huge response to that small leaflet you wrote for a local business, you know your words made the difference. And that’s miles better than any byline.

Had I not done a journalism degree, I genuinely don’t think I’d be able to persuade people to call, click or buy stuff like I do today. So if any trained journalists out there are thinking about a change in career direction, here’s why your background gives you the fundamentals to be a top-notch copywriter…

You know how to research

One of the first things you learn on any journalism course is how to do your research. And do it thoroughly. You learn how to do advanced web searches, how to interview people, how to scour social media and how to read whatever you can get your hands on to get background info on whatever story you’re writing.

These help you when copywriting, so you can delve into competitors’ recent activity, discover past campaigns in the industry you’re writing about, and speak to potential customers to put yourself in their shoes.

You know how to take criticism

Boxing matchEvery copywriter knows what it’s like to have a first draft ripped to shreds by a client. Even when you’ve stuck to the brief and put your soul into the task. It takes time to develop a thick skin and not take things personally.

As a journalist, you’ve probably been there before, so you know how to take even the harshest flak.

Whether it’s your tutor saying your story is dull as dishwater, or your editor questioning your ability to cut it in your chosen career path, you’ve gotten through it. And even if it didn’t feel like it at the time, every single dressing-down you’ve had makes you a much tougher nut to crack as a copywriter.

You know how to tell a story

If you did an NCTJ journalism course pre-2006, you’ll be familiar with the fictional town of Oxdown, and the importance of getting the who, what, when, where and why into your intro. But wherever or whenever you studied or did on-the-job training, those basic storytelling skills you learned back at the beginning can be more beneficial than ever as a copywriter.

Storytelling is one of the strongest weapons in a copywriter’s arsenal, and if you have a natural ability to keep a reader hooked, then you’re halfway to getting them to take action.

You know how to tell the truth

Most journalists start out impartial. You’re taught to be as objective as possible to give an accurate account of all parties involved in any story. It’s only when you begin working somewhere with a second agenda or political leanings that your truthfulness can go a bit skew-whiff.

So even if you’ve worked somewhere like that in recent years, try to think back to that fresh, keen, innocent writer you were when you left school. The one who wanted so badly to uncover the truth and give an accurate account of events, as I did. And use it to your advantage.

One of the easiest ways to get a solid lead or to clinch a sale is by speaking the truth about whatever you’re trying to sell. Honesty is attractive, and if you can back up your claims with case studies or genuine reviews, even better.

These are just the journalism fundamentals that give you a bunk-up as a copywriter, and I’m sure there are loads more. If you’d like to add some, please comment. It’d also be interesting to see if there are any ex-copywriters out there who’ve made the move the other way; let us know what copywriting traits helped you become a better journalist.

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