Six Useful Lessons I’ve Learned as an Agency Copywriter

As a copywriter for an agency, writing for an immeasurable number of subjects I have learned some incredibly useless facts and lessons. I have learned that eyebrows are more important than eyes when identifying a person, and I also learned of the day a Korean chap married a pillow. Fortunately, my time writing marketing, SEO and sales copy has also taught me some very useful lessons – here are the six I’m willing to share.

  1. Approach Secondary Research with Caution

Early in my career, I was asked to write medical advice for a health website. Given no source material, I set off to complete my own independent research and happily started compiling health information to regurgitate in my own SEO-friendly wording. Then the horrible realisation hit me – where does this information I’m using come from? Is it just me and my copywriting kinsman creating a web of copy on the internet and in print, all stealing off from another? This set me on a righteous path, making sure all information I used had reliable and traceable sources.

Scientist - JD Hancock

This is not me, and I am not a qualified medical practitioner. 

  1. Improper Nouns Need a Little Love Too (Sometimes)

Sometimes a bone of contention between myself and my editors is my proclivity to give improper nouns a little extra respect and a capital letter at the start of the word, if I think the copy demands it. If I am selling a Box (traditionally an improper noun), I’m going to give it a helping hand and a capital letter. If I am not selling a box, it can chill out with the verbs and adjectives.

This trick helps the object of my sales technique stand out and catch the eye of potential customers. It’s like putting a bow on a puppy, when potential adopters are snooping around.

Puppy - Sarah - Rose

This, also, is not me.

  1. Offer Extra Value

Have you ever got stuck down a Wikipedia rabbit hole? One minute you’re just checking what happened to Ian Woan – the next thing you know you’ve clicked four links and you’re reading about the Monarchy of Fiji (genuine Wiki journey).

Access to almost unlimited information has changed the way we read, and our thirst for information. Good advertising copy can effectively utilise this – by offering additional value in the writing.

If you have written an article about a mad millionaire buying an island, write an accompanying piece of copy about the seven maddest millionaires and their madcap adventures.

If you’re selling an island to mad millionaires, link to the websites of other mad millionaires who have bought neighbouring islands. Extra value helps to build trust and keeps visitors on your website or your client’s websites.

  1. Time the Sales Pitch

If door-to-door Jehovah’s Witnesses opened their gambit with “Join our religion!” there would be even more doors slammed in their faces. Understanding the necessity to build up to the incredibly difficult sales pitch, the pious will first demonstrate the value of their faith before expending how simple it is to sign up.

Good sales copy is the same. People who read through to the bottom of long copy are more likely to be receptive to the sale than those who are just clicking through to see what the internet can offer them in the form of procrastination.

Lure potential customers in with your charm and your careful analogies before socking them with the sales. If the copy and the product are good enough, the readers will be gagging for a call to action by the end.

  1. Quality is Often Subjective

Every copywriter (and writer in the broader sense) will receive knockbacks and negative feedback from clients throughout their career. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion about writing and this feedback should be valued. However, it is important that criticism is used to better your work, rather than break your confidence. To highlight the subjective nature of writing and peer review, here are a few negative reviews of classic novels from respected publications.

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.” – New York Times.

Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

“How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.” – Graham’s Lady’s Magazine

Wuthering Heights - Me and the sysop

 

A load of rubbish, apparently.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking. Here is an unmistakable talent unashamed of making itself a motley to the view. The Great Gatsby is an absurd story, whether considered as romance, melodrama, or plain record of New York high life.” – The Saturday Review

  1. Use Unusually-Numbered Listicles

Why restrict your listicles to a round number? Write, advise and educate until you can write, advise and educate no more, and the entire breadth your wisdom has been shared. Buzzfeed is the king of random number listicles – par exemple 42 Incredible Weird Facts.

Let the article define the number, not the number define the article.

Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credit: JD Hancock, Sarah – Rose, Me and the sysop