Why you can’t write copy

I know you think you can write copy, but I’m here to tell you something important – you can’t, and you should stop trying.

That is unless, you too, are a copywriter, in which case you’re free to carry on. This doesn’t concern you. This concerns those around you who think they know better.

I’ve been doing this job for a long time now, and no matter where I’ve worked, I’ve noticed something – everyone else thinks they can do better.

You’ll write a tagline for a product and send it over to a designer, just to watch them take all the punctuation out because it looks messy.

You’ll write an email campaign, before the account manager decides it would sound better written differently, and proceeds to do just that.

You’ll write a radio script, but the new business guy ‘knows the client’, so steps in at the last minute to pitch his own idea.

It happens time and time again, all across the industry, leaving copywriters wondering what they wasted all that time gaining experience and honing their craft.

After all, it’s only words, isn’t it? Anyone can do them.

Just the other week I was speaking with a creative director who told me he doesn’t have a full-time copywriter, as the COO likes turning his hand to writing and finds it relaxing. I took a look at their website, and you could tell.

And once I sat next to a very senior member of the creative team, as they took an apostrophe out of the word ‘it’s’ because it “didn’t look right on the screen.”

“But it means something different now,” I protested. “It’s the wrong word. You may as well put potatoes in. People will laugh at us. We’ll look like idiots. IT IS MEANS SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO ITS.”

It went to print, and I was told to get down off the table.

It’s time it stopped.

This doesn’t happen with any other area of creativity. You won’t see anyone editing a designer’s work without first consulting them. You wouldn’t get anyone cutting a film together unless they worked in that department. It only happens when you’re a copywriter.

It’s our own fault, really, for choosing a career that is just so damn easy.

Almost everyone can write. In fact, most of our colleagues will write several emails a day, write briefs, write texts to their friends, write shopping lists, all sorts. They write all the time. Piece of cake.

Writing is a doddle. They’ve been doing it since they were a kid. They thought about becoming a copywriter once, actually, and got a B in A-Level English. Writing is more of a hobby, anyway.

Their confusion comes in thinking that copywriting is the same.

It isn’t.

Copywriting takes a lot of work to get right. It takes a mind that can think in puns and wordplay and sales and imagination and the down and dirty all at the same time. It takes skill.

You haven’t got that skill, junior artworker. You haven’t spent your entire adult life practicing it, web developer. You don’t have a portfolio full of award winning lines, account director.

Sure, you can suggest things. There’s every chance I got it wrong and it could be improved. I’m not always a genius.

But your suggestion is where it should stop. Leave the words up to me, let me decide what sounds better, and let me be the one who says where a bloody apostrophe should go.

Or I’ll start doing your job for you, and I can promise you right now, I’d do it really badly.