Copywriters aren’t valued enough – a call to arms

There’s a quote my business partner Martin loves to use.

Copywriting is a greater skill than all other marketing skills combined.”

Design? Yeah right. Data analysis? Pfft. Pissing around on WordPress? Get in the sea, that’s got nothing on copywriting.

So why is it that the ProCopywriters Survey suggests that people with this skill of skills aren’t valued as the indispensable experts that we undoubtedly are?

Because that’s what the numbers say.

Copywriters aren’t paid enough

66% of us want to earn more money. That means if you get 3 copywriters in a bar, two of them don’t think the amount they earn is fair compensation for the skills they bring to the table.

We aspire, on average, to a day rate of £506. Yet we’re settling for £363.

(That’s a weak aspiration, by the way. The going day rate for a plumber is between £450 and £550, and while a plumber can unclog your toilet, chances are he can’t write an advertising campaign that’ll deliver you tens of thousands in additional revenue.)

This isn’t me complaining about my career. This is down in black and white and cerulean and gold in the survey. Copywriters are not paid enough money. 

Clients don’t value us enough

Back in that bar with our 3 copywriters, one of them gets less than 25% of her income on a retained basis. The rest is viewed as a one-off commodity. 

For 75% of the money she earns, she has to go out and explain to clients yet again that it’s not just words, and no your nephew with a GCSE can’t do it, and it’s not blurb, and no you can’t just copy your competitors and on and on and on and on.

Then, when our 3 copywriters do the work, chances are they’ll admit that half their clients aren’t comfortable judging copy.

Aren’t comfortable!

The most valuable marketing skill. More powerful than all the others combined. And clients aren’t comfortable judging it.

That tells you exactly why clients don’t value copywriters enough. 

We ask them to judge our work. 

My dentist didn’t ask for judgement when he yanked my molar out (“oddly cold hands, lack of emotional warmth when I cried at the drill, stingy on the ol’ novocaine. 6/10.”) because he’s a professional that solved a pressing need. He told me to ring back in a week if the problem wasn’t fixed. 

Your plumber doesn’t ask you to comment on the type of valves he’s used or the amount of piping insulation fitted. He tells you that he’s provided everything needed to fix your problem, then pockets a larger day rate than you. 

And that’s before we admit that we get by with bad briefs (51% lack basic information), no steer on tone (39%) and no access to experts (33%).

Let’s not even start on the 64% of people facing copy by committee, because I’ll burn this place down. 

Alright, whingebag, who’s to blame?

By now, you should be somewhere between irate and seething. You’re a copywriter. You’ve been doing this for 40 hours a week for the past 11 years. 

And what do you get? Shit briefs, shit feedback, shit pay.

Ready to tip over from seething to frothing?

This is your fault.

Yep. It’s your fault. And mine. And every other copywriter’s. We’re the ones who didn’t show our value.

Who let designers take up 7/8ths of a brand book with font recommendations and colour swatches while we squish a half-arsed verbal identity into half a page near the back.

Who didn’t demand better briefs, access to experts and highly relevant data. Who call ourselves wordsmiths and fetishise the words we use instead of the results we bring.

It’s us who fire off drafts with a cheery “hope you like it, tell me what you think” instead of a confident “this is the best approach to win you loads of business and I know because I’m the expert.”

We are the problem.

Which is good, because it means we can be the thing that every copywriter truly, deeply wants to be.

We can be the solution.

Was this all just a setup for a weak “Copywriters hate the word solutions” gag?

No. It wasn’t.

This was a setup to a call to arms. A rallying cry. A line in the sand. Because you are not here to be paid pennies per word to do shit work.

5 commandments to deliver great marketing. Half as many as the god of the Old Testament needed, because brevity equals good copy.

It’s all about putting the message first. Showing why we’re the most valuable part of every marketing campaign. Getting paid what we deserve, getting the briefs, access and data we deserve, and getting the respect we deserve.

We (being Hampson Nattan Williams) call it Message First Marketing. And we want you to get on board.

The 5 message-first commandments to deliver great marketing



17th August 2020


I’ve also written explaining why this approach works for clients. At the end of the day, they’ll value us as copywriters when copywriters deliver value. Message First Marketing delivers that value.

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