You really don’t need a copywriter

Andrew Boulton is a senior lecturer on copywriting and creative advertising at the University of Lincoln. He’s also a copywriter with over a decade of scribbling experience at top creative 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. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

Because of what we will call the current global ‘shenanigans’, we seem to have dispensed with such trifling concepts as truth, transparency, journalistic integrity and a critical appraisal of reported news.

But one of the first scaffolding poles of a progressive society to be hammered out of place with a clang was the role of the expert. Expertise, it seems, is now a poor substitute for ‘common sense’.

As a copywriter, such a gruff ideological shift wasn’t quite as hamstring-tightening for me as it was for most. Copywriters have been at the fizzing end of the ‘expertise’ debate from the day we first joined the ‘ink for cash’ business.

And, at a time where every legitimate species of scientist is being stripped of their ‘expert’ status, it would be churlish not to quietly hand in our own badge and pencil.

The truth is that you don’t need a copywriter. I mean, we can all write words can’t we? It’s just the alphabet, stupid.

I don’t mean to be (entirely) flippant. In fact I think even the most partisan copywriters should be able to admit that, if a few basic requirements are met, there is no reason why you should need the professional services of a writer.

Chief amongst these is the ability to read a brief. Easy. Again, it’s just words.

Of course, by ‘read’ a brief I mean interrogate it like it’s just assassinated an ambassador. Tear it to pieces with all your intuitive commercial understanding, creative curiosity and analytical rigour.

Then once you’ve mitigated the flaws, filled the gaps, structured the requirements, defined the priorities and analysed the competitive space and opportunity, you can pick up a pencil. (Better choose a sturdy one.)

The next bit is even easier. Simply come up with a creative idea. Make sure it’s clear and compelling. Make sure it’s original. Make sure it’s still clear and compelling. Make sure it contains all the key information. Make sure it doesn’t contain too much key information. Make sure you know what your customer would likely consider to be ‘key’ information. Make sure it will get noticed. Make sure it will get read. Make sure it will get noticed, then read and then acted upon. (Make sure everyone knows what that action should actually be.) Make sure it’s still clear and compelling. Make it shorter.

And then you’re done. Yes your fingers now look more like cured continental sausages than human digits, and yes this migraine will probably last until the next Olympics. But you are done.

…apart from the presentation, justification and (often) deflation of ensuring everyone else buys into your process, extensive reasoning and creative direction. At this point there is also a ‘slim’ chance that the brief, but not the deadline, may change dramatically. But it is so slim. Slim like a zoo penguin.

And then that really is it. Admittedly, the days of researching, thinking, scribbling, refining, editing, presenting, persuading, weeping, rewriting (and checking your apostrophes are in the right place) may make you feel like you’ve been harpooned – but you did it all without a copywriter. Go you.

So welcome to the future. A planet positively gushing with copywriters, all ready and able to get ink on their fingers and tears on their cardigan. Isn’t common sense the best.

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