14 (debatably useful) things i’ve learnt as a copywriter

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter with a decade of scribbling experience at places like Egg the online bank, some top agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. He has decent hair but a disappointing beard. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

As my GCSE geography teacher was trying to recover the trundle wheel i’d semi-accidentally got stuck up a tree, he rather shrilly declared that i’d never learn.

In this incident I had little cause to differ with the poor fellow, but as a copywriter I feel I’ve learned a thing or two of some value. And like the decent sort I am, I thought i’d share them with you.

1. Copywriters are not English teachers...

We don’t write proper. We write as a conversation would be conducted. I’d place flow, rhythm and tone far, far above getting my semi-colons in the right place. And I do this because the people reading our copy are not reading literature, they’re listening to a human voice (very craftily) trying to persuade them of something.

2. ...but some of the people you’re writing for might be!

While conversational English is the primary tool of the copywriter, there are people out there who get surprisingly furious at even the simplest relaxation of grammar. Do not by any means cater for these people, just remember they’re out there and are remarkably easy to upset.

3. It’s worryingly easy to kill a bad idea

It’s remarkable how often what seems like a wonderful idea can disintegrate by the time it gets on the page. As sickening as it might be, sometimes we simply have to let these poor rascals die.

4. Your best mate is the dictionary

No matter how clever new technology gets, the copywriter must never turn their back on the good old book-form dictionary. Reading the dictionary is the preserve of nerds, school boys in search of rude words and copywriters in search of inspiration (and rude words).

5. Other copywriters are annoyingly brilliant

Some of the work out there is so irritatingly wonderful it makes me want to shake the creator's hand and then beat them savagely to death with a sock filled with Tipp-ex bottles. But it’s fine to be envious, all it means is that you’re continually impressed with excellence of our profession.

6. (Through gritted teeth) Designers are brilliant too.

There’s no way around it, those accursed colour and picture monkeys are simply magnificent. Never tell them this.

7. A good copywriter can write anything

The finest copywriters are flexible copywriters. We must be able to turn our hand to any sector, any tone of voice and any platform. What matters is the message, get that right and it’ll work wherever you need it to go.

8. Not everyone can write, but anyone can turn a phrase

The people around you, at work and in everyday life, are capable of pulling off a quite spectacular bit of phrasing. Don’t think just because you’re the monkey with the typewriter that everything you write has to come exclusively from your own hairy brain.

9. No one likes change

‘Oh, i’m not precious, we can change that if you like’ are the words that may come out of your face, while really you’re thinking seriously about stabbing some interfering fiend to death with your thumb. But do you know what, it’s good to be precious, it means you have good reason to think you’ve nailed it. Just remember that there are some arguments which we simply won’t win.

10. No one will know what you do

My granddad thought I worked with inventors to trademark their products. My wife thinks I play Scrabble.

11. Never go anywhere without a note pad

Invariably the finest idea you ever have is the one that comes to you at the furthest possible distance from your desk. Copywriting without a notepad at hand is like fishing with a teaspoon.

12. Not everyone loves what we love

I love straplines, whereas some people see them as a crude simplification of the brand. I love long copy while many clients are struck with an overwhelming sense of terror at the thought of asking an audience to actually spend 30 seconds reading something. But we must never, ever stop pitching these things we believe in simply because they make those around us nervous.

13. To steal a particularly lovely strapline, ‘the future’s bright’

Broadcast marketing is in worse health than Don Draper’s lungs and liver. Marketing now exists in the age of the conversation. And, luckily for us, no one knows more about, or can more directly influence, the conversation than the copywriter.

14. And finally, everyone loves a list.


Follow Andrew Boulton on Twitter @Boultini

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter and shark film enthusiast at the Together Agency. He has literally learnt nothing else.

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