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I would write anything for cash, but I won’t write that

Andy Nattan

603 Copywriting

PRO

Back when I started writing for money in the deep and distant past, I had two golden rules.

Rule One: Never, ever, compromise your principles.

and

Rule Two: You can’t afford to have principles.

As far as rules for a junior copywriter go, they’re pretty flawless. Take what you can get, do a great job, and don’t sweat the morals. Fortunately, the closest I came to writing something for an organisation I disapproved of was an on-hold marketing script for Aston Villa’s ticket office.

Now I run my own copywriting business, and I’m at the point where I’ve had to draw a line in the sand. Unfortunately, there are some organisations I just don’t want to write for. Lots of copywriters won’t write marketing content for cigarette companies, Ben Locker’s on record as saying no to homoeopathy, and Sarah Turner has very very strong feelings about Tottenham Hotspur. But where do I draw the line?

Thanks for the Enquiry, But No Thanks

I’m not squeamish about much. I’ve written for rather risqué websites, sold clothes I’d never wear (and I don’t just mean that wedding dresses ain’t my thing), and I’ve smoked enough cigarettes and quit enough times to know that copywriters can only dream of hooks as powerful as nicotine. But after some thought, I’m afraid that I just don’t think my own personal biases would let me do a good job for clients in the following industries:

Politics

This one is commercial suicide. In my personal life, I’m fairly open with my political views. When it comes to business, I don’t want to know which party you back, and I don’t think you need to know which way I vote.

That means that I wouldn’t want to take on any work for a political party or candidate. In the unlikely event that I support your political stance and manifesto, I still wouldn’t want to put off potential clients by aligning myself with one party over another. And that’s before you get into the fact that I don’t want to write copy littered with promises that can’t or won’t be delivered on. If I advise clients against promising benefits that their tiling service can’t deliver, I’m not going to write a leaflet promising a tiger in every garage and free gin for the under-12s.

So sorry, Dave, Jez and the other one (is it Tim?) – you’ll just have to stick to your spin doctors.

Religion

Again, this is self-preservation. Religion’s a topic I don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole.

I’m all for freedom of religion. As a Leeds United fan I’m fully on board with putting your faith in unlikely happenings, but as with politics, this is a can of worms it’s best that copywriters just don’t open. Besides, writing for religious groups isn’t really that fun. About six years ago I had to write a brochure website for a fire-and-brimstone church, and I have to say it was one of the most miserable experiences of my professional life.

I’ll defend your rights to hold a religious belief, but I’ll run a mile if you ask me to help you preach to the unconverted.

Alternative Medicine

This was a really difficult thing to put on my “thanks, but no thanks” list. As with religion and politics, I’m not opposed to people who believe in acupuncture, homoeopathy or the healing power of crystals. But when you’re writing to sell a product, it’s really difficult to do good work if you’re not even convinced yourself.

I’m easily led, especially by my own copy. When I read back a piece to edit it, I’m always tempted to purchase that client’s service or product. That’s because as a professional writer it really helps when you honestly believe in a product. My best work comes from conversations with passionate clients who really know how to meet a need, and who have products that demonstrably and reliably work to fulfil that need.

I just can’t get into that headspace when it comes to the intrinsic memory of water, or the healing energy of inert rocks. Call it a failure of imagination, call it a lack of faith, or call it highly attuned skepticism. Just call another copywriter if you need someone to write about it.

Actually, it’s not just alternative medicine I don’t want to write about. If you’re selling little blue pills via the medium of spam comments on blog posts, you’re probably best going to a content mill.
leeds-man-u-10-300x204

Manchester United Football Club

I’d rather hit myself in the crotch with a hammer. Sorry.

What About You?

Is there anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable writing about? Or do you agree with a younger, less financially secure Andrew and think that writers can’t afford to have principles? Let me know by leaving a message in the comments section. I’ll be interested to see what everyone thinks.

This article was first published by Andrew Nattan on his website www.603copywriting.co.uk

Comments

PRO
21st June 2016

John Espirian

Nice post, Andy.

Should the day come when a right-wing fundamentalist healer stumps up enough cash to buy Leeds Utd, I hope you won’t keep quiet.

PRO
21st June 2016

Andy Nattan

John, I might have ethics when it comes to my career, but they fly out of the window when it comes to football…

21st June 2016

Sally Mayor

Great article, thanks. I’m with you, you’ve got to have principles (as long as you can still pay the bills!). I’d never lie to you and that’s a fact so I won’t write for a product or service that makes bullshit claims (“Read This Book and Wake Up With $6m in Your Bank Account” – that sort of thing).

Sally
Oh no, I’m going to have to go and listen to that song…

PRO
21st June 2016

Ben Lloyd

I agree that having some belief in the product being advertised is important to the quality of your copy. I once wrote for a hair loss clinic, and I’m happy to admit that the copy was some of my worst, primarily because of the sheer number of factors we had to pretend didn’t exist (potential permanent impotence with your new fringe sir?).

We had a quick debate about belief over in the forum a while back too – http://www.procopywriters.co.uk/forum/dealing-with-clients/do-you-believe-in-your-clients-productsservices/#p779

24th June 2016

Elizabeth Manneh

Very thought-provoking! I’m usually happy to write about most things, but turned down some work that promoted gambling. I also refused a job writing a ‘positive’ bio article about a business leader, because when I researched him, I found there were suspicions of some dodgy dealings. Can’t comment on the football though!

6th July 2016

Heidi Stephens

I write a lot of copy for lingerie, fashion and beauty brands. It’s a lovely thing to write about, but I draw the line at magical anti-ageing skincare, weight loss brands or cosmetic surgery clinics that play on women’s insecurities around ageing or achieving unattainable physical goals. Perhaps the implication that ‘rolling back the years’ = success/happiness feels particularly pertinent to me at this point in my life, but it makes my skin crawl and I want no part of it. Like you, it’s a no from me to tobacco, religion and homeopathy (or anything else involving bullshit science). Also financial services, because oh god I’m falling asleep just thinking about it.

7th July 2016

Susi Weaser

YES. I find it strangely satisfying turning down/not applying for jobs that conflict with my morals. The one that comes up most often is stuff in the diet industry, particularly focusing on women. There are already too many people trying to make women feel bad about themselves, they don’t need a load more empty promises and manipulative copy from me.

7th July 2016

Jackie Barrie

I turned down a job for a lap dancing club – before you ask, yes it was a copywriting job. I passed it on to a male copywriter of my acquaintance who I thought would enjoy it more than me.

I also turned down a job to write a label to go on the handle of a gun. I just didn’t want someone holding my words while they shot something, or someone.

And finally, depending on the contract when I have a regular retained client, I may turn down work from a competitor. (Which raises another point – writing for two clients in one sector could be a conflict of interests, but writing for three or more clients in one sector means you are a sector expert.)

25th July 2016

Elaine Hutton

So far, there’s just one potentially lucrative job I turned down and it was writing for a refrigeration company. Why? It just wasn’t cool enough 😉 As the client told me about their product, I started to wish I could freeze my own head and I knew that no matter what they paid me I wouldn’t be able to do it. I was busy at the time writing for the travel industry about sailing and skiing and didn’t really need the fridge gig. A few years down the line now I wish I had taken it on as a challenge because us copywriters should be able to sell anything, right? It’s ine thing to not believe in a job and to stick to your principles, but to avoid it because it sounds boring is now something I regret. A bit.

9th January 2017

Sebastian Kristof

I’m curious: Why such animosity towards homoeopathy?

Looking as I am from another side of the pond (American living in Canada), I can’t help but notice a certain unanimity of opinion within the UK copywriting crowd. Most everyone seems to dislike Trump, oppose Brexit, and scorn religion in all its appearances. And all hate homoeopathy almost as intensely as they do starting sentences with an “and.”

I am not a huge proponent of homoeopathy. Yet I believe it may have its place in the comprehensive patient care. I wonder if the people who dismiss it as quackery so lightheartedly have actually read the original works of Samuel Hannemann or other prominent homoeopaths of the 19th century. If they did, they would have to agree that homoeopathy as a branch of medical science is quite rigorous. The reasons why it fell out of favour in the 20th century had little to do with its effectiveness, and a lot to do with political and financial interests. There are other effective treatment modalities which shared the same fate and are not used today by the mainstream medicine (although in all fairness they should be).

Is it that the clients who order homoeopathy-related copywriting services are quacks themselves? Then I could understand your frustration. Still, I would expect the creative folk to have a bit of an open mind, and not throw the baby with the waters. With the way it’s going, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were against vaccination exemptions, freedom of speech, or every human’s sacred right to intoxicate themselves with whatever substance they choose.

PRO
6th March 2017

Mary Whitehouse

I wrote a press release for a lap dancing club once. I wasn’t allowed to mention lap dancing, girls, strippers, pole dancing or sex, but had to nuance everything as ‘gentlemen’s entertainment’. I can honestly say it wasn’t easy.

I have written for a politician after voting for the ‘other side’, but did so because the actual politician was a decent person, when if her party wasn’t to my liking.

I don’t think I could write blog posts/opinion pieces/editorial for something I strongly disagreed with though.

What do you think?

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