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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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