Tagged: career advice

How to Tell if You’re a “Natural Born” Copywriter

friendly hand.pngA personal confession: I don’t just like being a copywriter. I also happen to like copywriters in general. As people, I mean. Why?

Before you accuse me of being too kind to my own, consider.

How many copywriters do you know that seem extra welcoming and easy-going, as well as willing to answer questions and offer advice?

I know more than I can count.

What’s more, speak with them once, and they’ll usually remember what you’ve talked about. Introduce somebody and they’ll be happy to shake hands. In restaurants, they almost never snarl at a waiter. And I don’t know a single one among them who would ever kick a dog.

Every profession demands or at least cultivates certain character trains. Why should the copywriting field be any different?

For instance, I’ve found almost across the board that those colleagues of mine who happen to have those qualities… also seem to do better over the long run as copywriters.

Why? Simply because you need that insight into other people and what they’re thinking about to write all the best kinds of copy.

There’s a dark side to the typical copywriter personality, of course. At least in direct response, everything we do is measured to the penny. It either works or it doesn’t. And everybody notices, either way.

We’re hired, fired, and respected based almost entirely on performance. That can make one more than a little self-conscious. Even defensive and arrogant. In a debate, we can also be stubborn — simply because we spend so many working hours piling up proofs to back our claims.

What else have I noticed about copywriting types?

I’ve yet to meet a good copywriter who doesn’t have a good sense of humor, even though humor is something so rarely used — at least overtly — in direct-response sales writing.

And not just a passion for jokes. “It’s dry,” says my wife. We’re also observant. But sometimes, observant to a fault. That is, we can get caught up in subsets of details… while even bigger trends and events blow right past us, simply because they exist outside of whatever we’re focused on at the time.

Most copywriters I know also read widely. Some read history books, others read blockbusters, still more are sponges for trade journals, news clips, blogs, and popular magazines.

We like movies. And music.

In fact, we’re generally drawn to popular culture, even more than most, because it’s yet another way to soak up what our target markets are talking about.

Strangely, a lot of copywriters I’ve talked to don’t watch much TV, even though that flies in the face of what I’ve just said. Why?

Again, I can’t say for sure. But I can guess. TV eats up time, but gives back little in exchange. It’s also addictive. And that’s something else about copywriters. Like a lot of other writers, we can have slightly addictive or compulsive personalities.

Not necessarily the usual compulsions, either.

For instance, a lot of the copywriters I know are collectors. Of everything from puns and trivia… to chateaus and high-priced automobiles. For me, there was awhile there that I couldn’t help buying cheap used guitars. Until I acquired a few nice ones.

Which is another thing… I don’t know why, but easily 8 out of every 10 copywriters I know seem to play an instrument. And more often than not, that instrument is the guitar.

Not all of us are good, mind you. But we at least appreciate music. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve sat past 2 am, muddling my way through Dylan and Stones covers with fellow writers.

Copywriters are also a curious bunch.

By that I mean, we tend to be especially inquisitive. About everything. Even those things we’ll never write about.

David Ogilvy once said that curiosity was the key trait he looked for when hiring a writer. Be warned, if you don’t like asking questions, this might not be the field for you.

We’re storytellers. In print or conversation, copywriters love to default to the story form. Sometimes, more often than our listeners can stand.

The same goes for analogies.

We make — or should I say test — a lot of them. Analogy lies close to the core of creativity. A good analogy can make a complex idea sound simple. It can make an unfamiliar idea feel like an old friend. That doesn’t mean we always get the analogy right. But you can bet that when we don’t, we’ll try again.

A handful of the copywriters I know are doodlers or artists, yours truly included. That’s not a universal trait in this industry. But common enough to make it worth mentioning.

I think it’s because copywriting demands an especially strong mix of both left and right brain thinking. During the research mode, you’re all strategy and calculation. But then you need to jump to the other side of the divide, where your passion for the rhythm of word-craft resides.

Not everybody can do both.

Copywriters can be extroverted, but most that I know are not. On the other hand, we rarely shy away from a debate. We’ve got deeply felt opinions on everything, including a few things we don’t know much about… yet.

This list could go on.

But you more than get the picture.

There’s plenty about this trade that can be taught. But even the best techniques and tools aren’t worth much unless you’ve got the right kind of knack for this career in the first place. I’d be cheating you if I told you otherwise.

But let’s say you’re not at all like the person I’ve just described, but you still want to find your footing in this profession? No worries. Just like everything else, there’s always the option to simply do your thing and let the market decide.

More

Seven+ Ways to Keep Your Clients

shake.jpgOver the years, have I written my share of crotchety emails to product managers, traffic managers, legal assistants, publishers, and graphic designers?

I confess — I have.

A tiny handful have even made it past the “send” button… most, after sitting in my “draft” folder to cool, have landed in the trash can.

But rather than air out my own dirty laundry, let me share some insight from my friend and fellow marketer, Lori Allen. Lori runs Travel Writing and Travel Photography seminars for our mutual pals over at American Writers & Artists Inc.

She deals with lots of copywriters and other freelancers. So much that she once gave a
presentation at the famous AWAI boot camp, “Confessions of a Marketing Director: 17 Ways to Keep Clients Coming Back.”

Here are some of the highlights she shared…

1) Don’t complain or badger the client.

Imagine waking up from surgery only to have the doctor hovering over your bed, complaining about the mess you made in the operating room. You’d feel a bit, er, put out.

Yet, one copywriter Lori hired wrote her a letter complaining about the migraines and sleepless nights… she had “caused” because of the project she’d given him.

Guess what — she never hired him again.

Likewise, it’s not a good idea to badger clients for feedback. Sure, sometimes a response comes way too slow — I know, I’ve been there — but a gentle nudge is better than a searing cattle prod, in the long run. Believe me. I’ve been there too.

Of course, the longer and better you get to know the clients, the easier it is to be frank about what you need to get the job done. But even then, don’t mistake familiarity for a license to act like a jerk (Believe me, I’ve been… ah, you get the picture).

2) Offer to help not to destroy.

If your marketing client has a mailing control you think stinks, what should you do? Write them, of course, and tell them what idiots they are… right? Wrong.

Yet, Lori has letters from copywriters who say exactly that. Outright, they try to get new business by telling her that their layout stinks… the headline is insipid… and so on.

Is that the way your mama taught you to behave? Nope. And you shouldn’t behave that way with a client you hope to keep or win over, either.

One of the great things you learn as a seasoned writer is how to TAKE criticism… and if you’re lucky, you learn how to GIVE a critique better too. That means knowing when your critique is welcome and when it isn’t. It also means knowing how to make suggestions that get your clients looking forward hopefully… rather than feeling defensive.

3) Emphasize past successes, not failings.

How many poor chumps have you seen trying to “get the girl,” only to lapse hopelessly into awkward self-deprecation? Bottom line: you can’t go far by hiding your light under a bushel.

Talking to a new client? Then let them know what you’ve accomplished. If you’ve got great controls for one company, get samples and share them with the rest of your clients. There’s no need to be modest.

Talking to a longtime client? Don’t forget that the quality of your business relationship is built on reselling yourself to them, too. With discretion, make sure they don’t forget your greatest hits.

What if you lack experience? Don’t cringe in the shadow of your own innocence. Instead, be bold, eager, and well-informed. Be honest. And shine the light on what you’re GOING to do for them instead.

4) Know when to call instead of write.

Like I implied earlier, writing is often an isolated profession. You start to cherish working alone, and might even start using e-mail as your buffer against a disruptive world.

True, email can save you lots of time… sometimes. But here’s the real weakness of working solely by e-mail: It can make you think you control the conversation, when you really don’t.

That’s a problem.

Especially when you’ve got a complex idea to get across… an opinion that could be misread… or a sensitive question to ask.

There’s no way around it — you have to know when to pick up the call instead of write. Better yet, know when it’s best to meet in person. I know, that whole “face-to-face” thing seems like old technology. But you’ll be surprised by how much better it works, compared to, for example, brainstorming by Twitter.

5) Always include your contact information.

Okay, this isn’t about e-mail etiquette exactly. Except in the sense that it’s always right to make
your introductions. Obvious? Perhaps.

But Lori showed us an e-mail from one copywriter that would astound any self-respecting schoolmarm.

He asked her to mail something to him via the postal service… at a new mailing address he didn’t provide… while writing from an e-mail address he said he didn’t usually use. And he signed the message only “J.” And that was it.

Nice going, bonehead.

6) Understand the technical side of the business.

This isn’t so much etiquette either. But it pays, says Lori, to know enough about the print side of the direct mail business. Just so you can talk the talk when necessary. This is especially true when working with graphic designers. Nothing will help you sound more like a seasoned marketer. By the way, this is also true when you’re working with online copy. You don’t need to know HTML, but it helps to know the technical options afforded to you.

7) Get excited about the product.

Again, not an etiquette point. But essential for every communication you’ll have with a copywriting client. If there’s anything that will really make your copy work well and your clients willing to respect you, it’s a sincere understanding and appreciation of the product you’re writing to support. The enthusiasm flows from between the lines. And this will make your writing job much easier, to boot.

In the title to today’s piece, I said “+” after the “seven.” What’s that stand for? Well, naturally, the easiest way to keep a client is to write great copy that sells.

But that’s way too obvious, right?

More