Friday, May 25, 2012

What the Heck is a Copywriter Anyway?

A blog post by a fellow copywriter from the U.K. inspired me to write this entry today. The questions of "What do you do?" or "What is a copywriter?" are not unusual.

First of all, I am not a lawyer who works with copyrights. Copywriters work with copy--with text that promotes and sells in some fashion. They come up with concepts to convey the sales message, in tandem with the art director who conceives the visuals that complete the website, TV commercials, or print project. Then they write the words that speak to that concept. It used to be that the term "copywriter" implied "advertising" but this is not always the case anymore (although I got my start in ad agencies).

So what does a copywriter do? As a freelance copywriter I write: tag lines, print ads, headlines, and online banner ads; in-store signage, table tents, and other point-of-sale materials; other people's blog posts, websites, white papers, and articles--and more. (I am standing by for TV and radio spots.) If the medium has words that sell, promote, educate, or inform, it requires a copywriter to put virtual pen to paper (and sometimes a real one to get the creative juices flowing). Sometimes I get to brainstorm the concepts with an art director or hash out layout ideas with a graphic designer (like the old days) but often I work solo, writing to a website design or creating headlines that will inform the layout. I work with a rich assortment of accounts and the people behind them, and flex my writing muscles as the brand voice behind these accounts.

I had a wonderful career in ad agencies, first in Atlanta (long ago and far away, before there were word processors and the World Wide Web, and cable TV was an emerging media outlet) and then in New York. I had the opportunity to flourish creatively writing print ads, radio and TV spots, concept ads for consumer package goods, and print collateral. I got to work on a broad array of accounts. It was a blast. I still have two hand-rendered animation cels from a children's cereal commercial I wrote hanging over my desk.  

I still write the words that inform, promote, and ultimately, sell products and services. But in today's incredibly diverse communications landscape, copywriters must be more versatile to meet the demands of the marketing domain . . . and many small businesses are not putting their money behind paid advertising in the historic sense. Today it's about being able to cross over into other marketing arenas such as public relations or corporate communications. Whichever route clients take to market their messages, copywriters will be there to guide them.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Copywriter as Jigsaw Puzzler

It occurred to me the other day, as I was writing what seemed like gazillion little press releases from mere snippets of information, that writing copy is often like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

I love jigsaw puzzles. I have been known to complete a 1500-piece puzzle over a weekend in my spare time. It requires focus, an attention to detail, and an appreciation of order. The puzzler must be able to visualize the end result in her mind's eye and keep working toward that goal. The same can be said of copywriting in many instances, especially with long-form marketing materials as opposed to ads.

Fitting together all the puzzle pieces to create content that reads well, flows smoothly, and tells the client's story is a mind game I play every day--and love. It's stimulating, creative, and challenging, and in the end, produces something that helps businesses market their messages. It also satisfies my inner organizer.

For example, I am often hired as a ghost writer to create byline articles for clients. The material I am given is often fragmented and incomplete. I must see the end result in my mind and map out my path to achieve it. This usually means interviewing the client, doing some research to flesh out the details, compiling and rearranging my notes (several times); putting together the puzzle border (outline, and then filling in the middle with all the copy pieces. I read it and rewrite it, fitting the pieces together in different ways until the flow of information is just right and the puzzle is complete.

Creating website content is every bit as puzzling (in a good way!). First comes the border, or site architecture, which can be put together in myriad ways to best convey, display, and deliver the content. Then it's time to write all those pages, each one a piece of the larger story, developed from notes that are sometimes sketchy (time for more research) or more ponderous (time to take out the virtual knife) -- all ripe with potential internal links just waiting to be interconnected, each one a space in which to slot in copy that promotes a product or service. Love it!

Press releases pose an interesting challenge to the puzzler, who must showcase the lead, select the puzzle pieces that best support it, toss aside the pieces that distract rather than add to the story, and put it all together in an order that tells (and sells) the story. Sometimes the writer must sift through too much information to pull out the right nuggets; other times it's a scavenger hunt for the pithiest details needed to create a cohesive and compelling press release.

Bring it on!