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We need to talk about copywriting

Juliette Mitchell

Architypal

PRO

Are we better at writing about other people than about ourselves?

I’ve always been a little wary of the word ‘copywriter’. It doesn’t quite describe the breadth and depth of what I do.

But, worse than that, it doesn’t mean much to my clients.

So it doesn’t work for me, and it doesn’t work for my clients.

I’m a very particular kind of writer. I work with architects and designers, helping them with the words for their websites, award submissions, press releases, and anything else they need to write. And I run writing workshops to help them get better at doing it themselves.

‘Copy’ doesn’t get anywhere near covering it.

But I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves pushing up against the limits of the word. Every time we do a piece of work, we’re helping our clients better understand themselves and better understand their clients. We’re doing so much more than simply ‘writing copy’.

Those words say nothing about the listening, reading of minds, interpreting of jargon and understanding of the market that goes into our work. It says nothing about doing all of these things before even starting to think about the right words.

At best, it’s one-dimensional and misleading. At worst, it’s a particularly unlikely disservice to our very articulate profession.

I’d been quietly resisting the word ‘copywriter’ ever since I sidestepped from another industry – publishing – until the day I showed up at the 2018 ProCopywriters Copywriting Conference.

That’s when I knew I’d found my tribe. And that’s when I knew for sure that we were all so much more than the word ‘copywriter’ would have others believe.

So perhaps I wasn’t the only one sitting a little uncomfortably and just not sure how to talk about it. And perhaps we’re all routinely justifying the title we’ve been given or adding something explanatory.

Do I even sense a hedging of bets when Procopywriters announce themselves as ‘the alliance of commercial writers’ rather than ‘the alliance of copywriters’?

This new world of ours is ripe for new inventions and new classifications. But we seem to be clinging to our pre-internet throwback of a title. If we weren’t wearing it ourselves, wouldn’t we see the need to rewrite it completely?

Is it time, then, for us to turn our attention back upon ourselves and find a better way of describing what we do?

Changing how we talk about ourselves wouldn’t make much difference to most of our clients. They already understand the value of what we do.

But it would make a huge difference to almost everyone else. Either they’re still figuring out if we’re something to do with ‘copyright’. Or something to do with Mad Men. Or they’ve never even thought about our existence.

The other day a client asked me if I could do a more formal bit of writing for them. Did I do that kind of thing too, they asked? Yes, of course, I wanted to shout. I’ll turn my writing hand to anything. I’ll find the right tone of voice and the right words. If you’re the right client for me, I’ll work on all your projects.

So I started thinking. Perhaps I’m a Project Writer? Or if it’s about writing with a purpose (as Tom Albrighton cleverly defines it), perhaps I’m a Purpose Writer?

I’m still thinking.

But this isn’t just about me finding a new way to describe what I do. This is about all of us turning our thinking/writing/problem-solving minds to a better way of talking about what we all do.

Anyone want to join me?

Comments

PRO
2nd May 2019

Leif Kendall

I agree that ‘copywriter’ is a terrible term for commercial writers like us. It’s confusing, misleading and not known by the general public.

However, I think it’s the best term that we have so far, and it is widely known among professionals in advertising, marketing, communications, digital media and PR.

Trying to shift to a new term would involve a great deal of confusion – which is precisely what we’re trying to avoid.

Instead of bringing clarity and recognition, I suspect that trying to shift our terminology would only muddy the waters.

Personally, I think our best bet is to raise the profile of copywriters and to spread the word more widely.

This is a fascinating question though – BJ Hampson was recently asking people about this too.

PRO
8th May 2019

Helen Johns

Yes, Juliette is right: a lot of people don’t understand the term ‘copywriter’ or for that matter ‘copy editor’. In marketing terminology, more seem to be able to relate to ‘content writer’ as ‘content’ is a buzz word in SEO marketing. But copywriting is so much more than just writing the words, as Juliette says, and you need to understand the client, their marketplace, their positioning, their target audience and so much more! I think that, while the term ‘copywriter’ might be well understood by professionals in marketing, advertising, digital media and PR (as Leif says), it is NOT understood by businesses at large who may not employ these professionals! If you are working for professionals – no problem! If you are working directly for a company or even sole trader business, it is not so readily understood. I don’t have an answer, I’m afraid, other than taking the time and trouble to explain what you do when you are talking to a client or prospective client.

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