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Training and CPD for content professionals: recommendations from #ContentClubUK

Howard Walwyn

Prism-Clarity Limited | Specialist finance copywriting, technical writing and editorial services

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On 2 June 2020, I was privileged to host the #ContentClubUK Twitter chat which takes place every Tuesday at 11am.

It struck me that people in copy, content and design roles don’t always have a structured training path or linear route into the industry.

I was interested in how people got themselves into this kind of career, how they trained up, and the kinds of ongoing CPD they’ve done or plan to do.

This blog post summarises the theme of the chat and highlights the resources that came up in response to my three questions. These were:

1. when you started out in content what training – if any – did you do to help you launch your career? (for example, professional qualifications, long courses, short courses, web-based, on-the-job, any kind of training)

2. what is the best piece of content continuing professional development (CPD) you’ve ever done? (Define CPD however you like – e.g. a conference session, book, event, webinar – or a traditional training course)

3. What additional training or CPD, if any, are you doing currently or targeting over the next year? And how, if at all, has the coronavirus/lockdown environment influenced your plans?

On-the-job vs formal training

This was, I thought, an interesting theme that emerged from the chat, and it’s not just generational.

Many people enter the copy and content industries without much formal training. Either as experienced professionals from other fields or straight from school or college.

On-the-job training, trial and error, and learning from experience account for a big portion of career development in our content world.

This was particularly true a few years ago when training just wasn’t a thing. As Fi Shailes (Digital Drum) put it: “Content’ wasn’t really given the same reverence back then. In the early marketing roles I was working in, I just learned as I went (unwittingly).:

Yet there are ‘seasoned’ people (‘wizened’ in my case) who are now training intensively to help them break into the creative field as a second or third career. Conversely, there are younger souls still finding their way in with a good break and not much formal training.

It goes both ways. Perhaps more in the first category than the second. Training nowadays is certainly more available and has more premium value, than when I was growing up.

Entry platforms

Creative writing and journalism are still common entry platforms for a copy or content career, either via a formal qualification (more on that later) or on-the-job training.

Peter Springett highlighted his coaching in journalism by two formidable ex-Fleet Streeters, which included sub-editing, editing, research and notetaking.

But how else do (or did) people break into this kind of role?

Robyn Santa Maria‘s experience, from a role as an in-house comms adviser and manager, is instructive, “I basically ‘fell’ into the role of in-house copywriter and editor as all my colleagues would ask me to check their writing. Everyone else wanted to do the ‘sexy’ strategy stuff. I was basically the team nerd…”

A common route into copywriting a few years ago was to go straight into an advertising agency and start at the bottom.

Mary Whitehouse and Jonathan Wilcock both cited this route, as well as reminiscing about the bad old days of routine boozy lunches in the City and the advertising sector.

Other entry platforms cited on the chat included theatre, virtual assistant (VA) work, teaching and technical (CMS) roles. Fi Phillips, with years of experience as a playwright, initially took on a VA role and then used that as a platform for becoming a content creator.

Greg Henley shares this theatrical background, and highlights the similarities between how actors and copywriters approach their work: check out his blog on applying the Stanislavskian acting ‘system’ to the copywriting world.

Claire McCabe (CopyContentWriter) noted the transferable skills that come from teaching writing as a primary school teacher. Not to mention the active listening and empathy skills acquired in that particular discipline. Both of which invaluable for copywriting.

Approaches to self-development

A few people on the chat had wise insights on general approaches to self-development whatever form of ‘CPD’ you were doing.

Dee Primett (Wicked Creative) advocated pushing yourself out of your comfort zone as the best way of learning and developing yourself. And for Tim Goodfellow, there’s no better CPD than trying to find ways of improving with each new job.

Stephen Marsh suggested that borrowing ideas from experts – something which this author confessed to doing (specifically Laura Parker’s UX writing session at #CopyCon19) – was a vital development tool.

Another insight from Stephen was to actively invite more criticism of your work, as an explicit training goal. He said, “It’s one thing to want to be viewed as an expert, but even more valuable when someone tells you your work is rubbish!”

Resources

Training and CPD resources – courses, conferences, online training events, books, podcasts and the like – also seriously matter in copy and content world.

The rest of this post simply collates some of the resources identified by people in the #ContentClubUK chat.

Courses

Creative writing and journalism

Traditional writing training routes received lots of mentions (I won’t reference them individually).

They included the humble English degree (I have one of them!), the Creative Writing MA (lots of different versions out there), various OU platforms, and the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ).

Dom Kent summed up by noting that he started out with a freelance journalism course, so he, “Could learn how to write properly, instead of everything irrelevant I learned about writing at school. Since then, it’s mostly been writing and getting feedback and seeing what brings results.”

Sara Donaldson observed that creative writing courses can really help you stretch your powers, helping you find new ways to look at things and write about them. Creative writing courses also subject you to ongoing editorial critique, which is invaluable in honing your content writing skills.

Copy, content and marketing

There were a couple of very strong recommendations for the Content Design London 2-3 day course in content design, which Fi Shailes said was without a doubt the most impressive and valuable content-related course she’d ever taken: “such an eye-opener and really had an impact on my thinking about users.” Helen Hill expressed similar admiration.

Distance learning hub The Blackford Centre has a wide range of courses, which especially target people who want to set up their own business. Their options include courses in copywriting (mentioned by Matt Dryzmala) and digital marketing, among many, many others: check out their list.

Elsewhere, Eloise Leeson highlighted the online training provided by women’s collective All Bright Digital. Eloise described AllBright as “a gold mine of practical, applicable information drawn from a phenomenal female collective. 15/10 would recommend.”

Claire Hawes, meanwhile, mentioned Heather Lloyd-Martin’s SEO copywriting course, which describes itself as the only industry-endorsed online training that certifies copywriters in SEO copywriting best practices.

Also on SEO, Dom Kent noted the SEMRush academy, especially for SEO newbies, and Moz SEO received a couple of appreciative mentions.

More broadly, Helen Tarver plugged Ian Sanders’ Do Freelance day which really helped her transition from corporate to freelance life. (Ian mentioned there should be an online version available soon.)

Sally Fox reported on her course at Udemy, the global learning and instruction marketplace. In a similar vein, John Lew mentioned the user-centred content design course he’s doing on FutureLearn.com.

And Dee Edwards spotlighted the copywriting diploma she’s doing at the College of Media and Publishing. Katie Thompson, meanwhile, is following up her NCTJ training with a marketing diploma at the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Academy. Diligent!

Oh and don’t forget Andy Maslen, whose Breakthrough Copywriting is currently cheap and highly recommended by several contentclubbers.

Editorial

Also under this heading, there were plugs from editorial types (yours truly and Sara Donaldson) for the editorial training provided by the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), another viable route into content disciplines.

Conferences and events

Everyone loves CopyCon. It was mentioned a few times under the ‘Best CPD’ heading. And, believe it or not, some people even love the social aspect – meeting fellow word nerds and letting their hair down (if you have hair).

Many who attended #CopyCon19 referred to Laura Parker’s session, mentioned earlier. It left a big impression on everyone who saw it. Glenn Fisher’s session also got great reviews. Fingers crossed for #CopyCon20, though we’re not holding our breath…

Speaking of #CopyCon19, another popular session was Kelvin Newman’s. Brighton SEO garnered a couple of recommendations (from Claire Hawes and Katie Thompson) as a really good form of ongoing CPD.

The recent @upwriteonline 5-day ‘Be Your Own Boss’ challenge and @digitalcityfest also received honourable mentions in the events category.

Books

Just as we all love CopyCon, creative folk simply love books. People swear by their favourites, and the leading candidates are no surprise.

I can do no more than reproduce them here, in no particular order.

Sally Fox came up with an incredible reading list which I can only gape at in awe, and reproduce here without comment :

In a similar vein was Dom Kent’s ‘re-reading’ list which, again, prompts me to only look on in awe and wonder. (Dom also included Art of the Click but no repeats here.)

For completeness – given how much we love books – also mentioned was our very own Alice Hollis who has put together some much-appreciated little books on copywriting, including the Little Book of B2B Blogging.

Natalie Trice’s PR School: Your Time to Shine received a vote, as did Ryan Wallman’s Delusions of Brandeur, and (usefully for this verbose writer) Sarah Richards’ Content Design, which at least two contentclubbers recommended. Teaching you to write something in 50 words where you’d previously have taken 500.

Blogs and podcasts

Lots of people mentioned blogs and podcasts including @verygoodcopy’s excellent blog. And our old favourite All Good Copy, one of the best podcasts around. The HotCopyPodcast is also popular.

I’m going to use authorial licence to plug two individual blog posts I spotted on the chat which are well worth following up: Dom Kent’s riveting account of his content marketing journey published on Digital Drum, almost a mini training course in itself.

And Masooma Memon’s post on becoming a better writer by ditching essay writing – hot off the press as she published it during this chat.

Not a blog, or a book, or a course, but a toolkit, deserving a mention on the grounds of Helen Hill’s enthusiasm alone: @meghscase’s Content Strategy toolkit. “Amazing” in Helen’s words.

And finally

I couldn’t end without mentioning this separate blog post by Sara Donaldson, published a few days before the #ContentClubUK session.

Sara packed her post with guidance on how to prioritise and organise your various CPD efforts, as well as lots of specific CPD suggestions.

Finally, a plug for #ContentClubUK which, somebody observed on the chat, is itself one of the best sources of CPD out there for content professionals. It’s on Twitter, on Tuesdays at 11 am.

First published on prism-clarity.com

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