A slow change is taking place on the corporate marketing landscape, so slow in fact that it’s nearly imperceptible unless you’re in it.
It used to be that the “client side” of the advertising business was filled with agency folks who’d grown tired of the rat race. The intense pressure, the endless pre-pitch nights, the revolving door of clients which, when they quit the agency, often resulted in jobs being hemorrhaged.
But then, a little at a time and often under the radar, the agencies that fed those second-hand (vintage?) creatives into the client side started closing their doors, or scaling way back. Google and Facebook, and their respective offspring YouTube and Instagram, were largely to blame, since they were vacuuming up more and more of the ad revenue that used to go to agencies.
As a result, the old agency-to-client-side funnel is gone. I don’t know where companies get their copywriters these days. It might be from university English departments, or viral video writing teams, or even from each other, but it sure as hell isn’t from agencies.
Apart from deteriorating copy quality, one result of this seismic shift is that fewer and fewer companies seem to know what a copywriter is even for. This is somewhat amazing to me.
As a matter of fact, I’ve been approached by marketing executives with jobs far above my pay grade and advanced Ivy League degrees to do everything from writing technical white papers and designing pitch decks to editing business letters. While it all pays the bills, and I can even do some of it quite capably, it’s not the best use of my talents. I can do so much more for you, if you let me–but first, you have to know what that is.
A copywriter is not:
- A technical writer
- A public relations (PR) writer
- A content writer
- A UX writer
- An editor
- A business article writer
- A blogger
- A ghostwriter or book author
A good copywriter might be able to do a few of those things. Indeed, I spent all of last year writing UX content! But again, if that’s all you hire a copywriter to do, you’re not taking full advantage of what’s in front of you.
A copywriter is:
- Someone who develops ideas, and writes words, to make customers change their mind, take action, or both.
That’s what it is and that’s all it is.
I’ve seen it expressed before that copywriting is “selling through print.” That’s another good definition. If there’s no selling, it’s not copy.
If the copy is primarily designed to change people’s mind, it’s awareness advertising.
If the copy is primarily designed to get customers to take action, such as buying a t-shirt or renewing a subscription or accessing a gated article, it’s direct response or lead generation advertising.
And that’s what a copywriter gets paid to do. Nothing more or less.
Are there fewer such opportunities to deploy great copywriting? Well, some of the old ones aren’t as common as they used to be, print ads being a great example. But the world is still full of things that could have been made great by a writer, and instead are aggressively mediocre.
You see them every day. Pricey billboards lining Silicon Valley’s 101 freeway with janky headlines and concepts created by the CEO’s brother-in-law. Event booth signs and handouts that should have gone straight into the trash can, Home page copy (your first chance to sell your prospect on your product!) that reads like it was fed through Google translate.
Put your copywriter to work doing what she or he was born to do.
Writing great copy.